A World Without Women: The Christian Clerical Culture of Western Science

A World Without Women: The Christian Clerical Culture of Western Science

by David F Noble
     
 

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Why is it that Western science evolved as a thoroughly male-dominated enterprise? As philosopher Sandra Harding has noted, "women have been more systematically excluded from doing serious science than performing any other social activity except, perhaps, frontline warfare." In A World Without Women, David F. Noble provides the first full-scale

Overview

Why is it that Western science evolved as a thoroughly male-dominated enterprise? As philosopher Sandra Harding has noted, "women have been more systematically excluded from doing serious science than performing any other social activity except, perhaps, frontline warfare." In A World Without Women, David F. Noble provides the first full-scale investigation of the origins and implications of the masculine culture of Western science and technology, and in the process offers some surprising revelations.
Noble begins by showing that, contrary to the widely held notion that the culture of learning in the West has always excluded women—an assumption that rests largely upon the supposed legacy of ancient Greece—men did not thoroughly dominate intellectual life until the beginning of the second millennium of the Christian era. At this time science and the practices of higher learning became the exclusive province of the newly celibate Christian clergy, whose ascetic culture denied women a place in any scholarly enterprise. By the twelfth century, papal reform movements had all but swept away the material and ideological supports of future female participation in the world of learning; as never before, women were on the outside looking in. Noble further demonstrates that the clerical legacy of a world without women remained more or less intact through the Reformation, and permeated the emergant culture of science.
A World Without Women finally points to a dread of women at the core of modern scientific and technological enterprise, as these disciplines work to deprive one-half of humanity of its role in production (as seen in the Industrial Revolution's male appropriation of labor) and reproduction as well (the age-old quest for an artificial womb). It also makes plain the hypocrisy of a community that can honor a female scientist with a bronze bust, as England's Royal Society did for Mary Somerville in the mid-nineteenth century, yet deny her entry to the very meeting hall in which it enjoyed pride of place.
An important and often disturbing book, A World Without Women is essential reading for anyone concerned not only about the world of science, but about the world that science has made.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Isaac Newton identified women with the devil. The male-dominated culture of Western science, writes Noble, has systematically excluded women from doing serious research, and even today female scientists face discrimination and marginalization. In a pioneering study, Noble, who teaches the history of science at York University in Toronto, argues that Western science took shape within the clerical, ascetic culture of the medieval Latin Church, in revolt against the very different situation for women that existed during the first millennium, when an androgynous Christian ideal was taken seriously and aristocratic women gained significant control over property. Noble overstates his case in maintaining that science is in essence a religious calling, more a continuation of than a departure from the Christian tradition. Nevertheless, his exciting history draws vital links between the origins of the scientific enterprise, the way basic research is conducted, the tenor of modern scientific thought and the longstanding effort to subdue the feminine in society and nature. (May)
Library Journal
Noble takes a bold, important step toward explaining the current minor role of women in science by placing the blame squarely on the shoulders of the monastically oriented, male-dominated Christian church. Starting with the relatively wide range of educational and leadership roles available to women in first-century Christianity and working his way through the centuries, Noble demonstrates how human value, education, and opportunity are linked with developments within the church. He spends a great deal of time covering the evolution within the church that led to the subjugation of women. He points out that the Reformation, the Great Awakening, and most heretical movements appealed strongly to women and that within these movements women gained educational opportunities and leadership roles. Noble also describes how Western universities and scientific societies were based on monastic models, leading them to be male-dominated communities. This book is likely to be controversial because of its focus on the church as oppressor, but it is still highly recommended.-- Eric D. Albright, Galter Health Sciences Lib., Northwestern Univ., Chicago
From the Publisher
"Fascinating, informative, utterly persuasive."—Benita Eisler

"Learned, Challenging, and provocative. A wonderful book."—Blanche Wiesen Cook, author of Eleanor Roosevelt

"This is an important book because it reaches into the deep reasons that led to the male dominance of Western science and shows that the outcome, like so much in history, was contingent. It did not have to turn out the way it did—and by clear implication, it does not have to be the same in the future."—Daniel J. Kevles

"A fascinating and provocative book."—Natalie Z. Davis

"Noble takes a bold, important step toward explaining the current minor role of women in science by placing the blame squarely on the shoulders of the monastically oriented male-dominated Christian church....Likely to be controversial...highly recommended."—Library Journal

"An exciting history."—Publishers Weekly

"An original, ambitious project that brings together scholarship from the history of science, religion, and women's studies to present the vicissitudes of almost 2,000 years of calumny that defined women as unfit to devote their lives to study, especially the study of nature."—Bettyann Kevles, Newsday

"This is not a book to be read in haste. It should be considered carefully and discussed thoroughly - and women should remember its content!"—Professor Anne M. Butler, Utah State University

"Very useful in bringing out certain themes important to the course i teach. Well written and clear."—Pat Smith Wasyliw, Ithica College

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780394556505
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
04/28/1992
Pages:
329

Meet the Author

About the Author:
David F. Noble is Professor of History at York University in Toronto. His previous books include America by Design: Science, Technology, and the Rise of Corporate Capitalism and Forces of Production: A Social History of Industrial Automation.

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