Pushback Series

Public Menace: Spectrums of Abuse from the Personal to the Professional

Today’s post comes from Francesca Stavrakopoulou, Professor of Hebrew Bible and Ancient Religion at the University of Exeter, UK. Alongside her academic publications, her work includes television and radio programmes, and a new book for general readers. In this powerful and personal post, Francesca narrates just some of the hateful abuse she has experienced as a woman and an atheist in biblical studies.

Stupid bitch. Dirty slut. Cunting whore. Just some of the names strangers have called me on social media, in emails, and – most unnervingly – in letters sent to my work address. We all know that misogynistic abuse awaits any woman who ‘dares’ to say anything in public. And for many of us, it’s just another form of the verbal abuse and harassment we’ve experienced since we were teenagers – the words shouted at us by men from across the street, hurled at us on public transport, hissed into our ears in crowded venues.

But nowadays, the hate speech I hear is often couched in religious language and imagery, because much of what I say in public is about the Bible. According to a ‘disciple of Christ’ (as one otherwise anonymous man labelled himself), I’m not just a slut, but the ‘Slut of Satan’. For Michelle from Ohio, I’m not just a bitch, but a ‘bitch dog of hell’ who deserves to die. For one man who sent me pornographic images, doctored with photos of my face, I’m a ‘temptress’ destined to have the sin raped out of me. Some might be shocked by this hate mail. Some might even laugh at this name-calling. Sometimes I did. Laughter is often one of my first, nervous reactions – but not the very first. Because the first thing I feel when this abuse appears is unsafe.

When I was invited to write this blogpost, I scrolled through my Facebook page, looking at the screengrabs and photos I’ve posted over the years, cataloguing some of this hate (only some – my family certainly don’t need to see the full, grotesque extent of these communications). Putting this material on Facebook, where only my friends and colleagues can see it, is one of my coping strategies – it goes some way to disempowering its force, turning it into something to be ridiculed. More importantly, sharing it with friends and colleagues almost makes it less personal, because it stops being private. But as I scrolled through the photos, I didn’t get very far. I just didn’t want to revisit it. Not that I needed to, because most of the abuse I receive is pretty much the same: alongside the threats, misogyny, and accusations of blasphemy and sinfulness, I’m accused of stupidity, of speaking falsehoods about matters I cannot possibly understand because I’m an atheist.

Is atheism just another convenient hook on which to hang this abuse? Maybe. After all, some of my Jewish and Christian colleagues have experienced similar attacks, simply for bringing biblical scholarship into wider public view. We seem to be perceived as trespassers, trampling on the unquestionable truth and sanctity of God’s written word. But the hate mail I receive suggests my atheism, gender, and the way I look and speak, seems to be a particularly toxic combination for those seeking to defend their God and their Bible from my public-facing work. In a confessional world in which expert knowledge about the Bible is traditionally embodied by men, a biblical scholar who happens to be both a woman and an atheist is simply too transgressive. My academic credentials, of course, are either irritating or irrelevant to these people. ‘How many people did you have to sleep with to get a PhD from Oxford?’ wrote someone who’d seen me on a TV show. It wasn’t the first time that type of question had been asked of me. And I don’t expect it will be the last.

But here’s where this blogpost gets harder to write. The hate mail I receive from strangers is just one end of a spectrum that extends into the academy in milder but no less upsetting, exhausting forms. To be completely honest (and this isn’t easy to say), I’m not going to describe the more troubling of my experiences, precisely because I fear the fall-out, both personally and professionally. And some of it I’m simply not permitted to discuss in public (let the reader understand). But other aspects will be all too familiar to others. Like many women scholars, I too have overheard academics in convention-centre bars speculating that my career successes reflect the sexual favours I may have promised or bestowed. And like colleagues whose work has been dismissed or misrepresented because of some aspect of their personhood (such as gender, race, sexuality, class, accent, age, or faith-stance), I’ve both experienced and been told of other scholars discrediting or downgrading my research, my teaching, my intellect, and even my morality because of my atheism, my gender, the way I look, or the way I dress. Let me be clear: this amounts to more than occasional flashes of academic sniping or competitiveness. This is the constant hum of the micro- and mini-aggressions many of us experience not only as background noise, but as the looping, grating soundtrack to our careers.  

What can we do about it? The obvious (if dauntingly monumental) task is to dismantle the power structures that enable all forms of abuse in academia. And crucially, that starts with dragging abusive and aggressive behaviours out into the light. But this can come at great personal and professional cost – which itself flags the extent to which the cultures in which we work need to change. I hope one day to be resilient enough to be able to dissect and reflect on my own experiences in ways that might play some part in helping to improve institutional policies and detoxify academic cultures. But in the meantime, I offer myself as an ally to those who are going through it – as I brace myself for whatever comes my way simply by writing this piece.

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Late Night Phone Alerts and Other Intrusions: What to expect when you write about sexual violation in religion.

Today’s post comes from Amy Paris Langenberg. Amy is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Eckerd College, Florida. Amy is the author of  Birth in Buddhism: The Suffering Fetus and Female Freedom (2017, Routledge). You can read an earlier post by Amy, together with Ann Gleig, here.) This time Amy reflects on her experiences as a scholar who writes about sexual violence in Buddhism.

I recently wrote a piece on Buddhist cases of sexual violation and the Buddhist understanding of consent that was published online in Tricycle, an American publication read by Buddhist practitioners, teachers, and scholars. I argued that recurrent instances and allegations of sexual misconduct and violation  in American Buddhist communities show that Buddhism has a sexual ethics problem. I also contended that a doubling down on well-known Buddhist ethical principles, like non-harm and compassion, was not an adequate solution. I called instead for a Buddhist- but also feminist-informed path towards ethical reform and healing, and suggested that deep in the early tradition were overlooked resources that support a more survivor-centered approach to the issue.

People were triggered.

Sexual violation in religious communities is about sex, but it is also about authority and power. Challenges to patterns of abuse in Buddhism, even scholarly ones such as my piece, push on the cleavages and stress points in structures of power and arrangements of authority. It is not surprising, then, that the pushback I received challenged, in return, my authority for writing on such subjects and demeaned my qualifications as a scholar.

Much worse, the negative responses I received also implied that the multiple survivors of sexual violation in American Buddhism were not really harmed, or alternatively, not really Buddhists. These comments were delivered publicly on social media, but also over private messaging, sometimes lighting up my phone at odd hours of the night. I found the affective labor involved in receiving and deciding how (or if) to respond to these types of communications significant. How much worse must it be for survivors such as Andrea Winn, Rebecca Jamieson, or Lama Willa Miller, who, having battled through the trauma of the original experiences, have then withstood hostility and erasure, often from other Buddhists.

My Tricycle piece argued that the Buddhist tradition is not by itself adequate for responding to abuse, but that sources within the vinaya (monastic disciplinary texts) — namely uniquely Buddhist understandings of consent and intention — could be helpful for survivors wishing to find resources within a tradition they still find meaningful or a source of healing. Still, the most affectively charged responses I received were from people who positioned themselves as consummate insiders.

One such response came from an American bhikṣuṇī (fully ordained monastic woman) in the Chinese tradition living in Iowa. Her lengthy comments, which were posted to a Buddhist Studies Facebook group, characterized my piece as a “nice hodgepodge” of references (thus seeming to imply that it had no central argument or point). She critiqued the fact that I didn’t include endnotes and scolded me for not providing quotes from the vinaya. Assuming incorrectly that I did not have access to them in their original languages, she pointed me to places I could find vinaya sources in English. In response, I thanked her for her comment and respectfully explained that public facing scholarship in a popular publication like Tricycle didn’t allow for extensive quotation and citation. I spared her a full accounting of my scholarly credentials, but suggested that, if she take a look at my page, she might find some of what she was missing in the Tricycle article.

I don’t think she did bother to look up my background or scholarship, nor did she seem to put a lot of time into understanding the point of my Tricycle piece. This was to open up the tradition by reading against the grain and asking different questions than it explicitly asks of itself, a reading strategy well represented and well theorized as a feminist hermeneutic and historiography. Instead, in her next post she launched into an off-the-top-of-her-head list of unsolicited suggestions for other, in her mind better, research methodologies I could take up and other disciplines I could explore in order to address the issue of abuse in Buddhism. She finished by stating that since the issues of consent and abuse were not of concern during the Buddha’s time (a position with which I heartily disagree), my constructive work in exploring notions of consent in the vinaya and other classical sources was doomed to be “conjecture and comparisons which make for poor scholarship.”

Another far more more aggressive response came from a Tibetan Buddhist practitioner who claimed to have close connections with multiple Tibetan lineage holders and tulkus, including Chogyam Trungpa and his family. She described her relationships with a host of famous Tibetan Buddhist figures, to whom she was apparently babysitter, student, lover, and friend. Who am I, she asked, to question or criticize her Tibetan teachers? On what authority? What lineage was I a part of? What do I know about abuse in Shambhala or elsewhere? In fact, I did not attempt a full or detailed accounting of allegations against Tibetan teachers in my piece, as this was not my focus, and they are, in any case, detailed elsewhere. I did, however, reference apologetic or what I consider to be simplistic responses from Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche and others as part of my argument that Buddhist solutions to abuse had not been adequate.

This reader further argued that my focus on survivor trauma and the vagaries of sexual consent infantilizes women and takes away their sexual choices. She accused me of telling her with whom she could have sex, and then documented her personal life, which apparently included a relationship with a prominent Tibetan Buddhist teacher (now deceased) as well as several well-known figures in the music industry. She argued that sexual abuse cases were only properly decided in a court of law where one is innocent until proven guilty and the burden of proof is high. Additionally, she questioned whether American Buddhism (the field of focus for my ongoing collaborative work on Buddhist sexual abuse with Ann Gleig) is real Buddhism as, in her estimation, real Buddhism is Asian.

In her gentler moments, this reader schooled me privately by direct message on the six perfections and the eight-fold path. At other times, she seemed to want to blackball me publicly by tagging multiple Buddhist teachers in a series of taunting tweets. In these public Twitter missives, she impugned me as arrogant and my scholarship as “shabby” and “bad academics” that mixed up things that shouldn’t be mixed up, such as psychology and different schools of Buddhism.

In total, this individual left only one initial comment on a private Facebook group page but private messaged me upwards of twenty-five times, many of which were substantial messages, with one reaching over 1500 words in length. She also included various and sundry attachments. In addition, as mentioned she sought me out on Twitter in order to disparage me publicly in a several-tweets-long thread. (My communications to her numbered three in total, the longest amounting to 33 words.) Overall, her tone ranged from pedagogical, to confessional, to loving, to taunting, to insulting. Twice, her private messages dropped very late at night, one after the other in a series. They lit up my phone and made me reach for it thinking they could be emergency texts from one of my children.

I learned from my Tricycle experience that our work on sexual abuse in American Buddhist communities is triggering. In different ways, both responses were inappropriate and intrusive given my qualifications as a scholar, what I had actually written in my Tricycle piece, and the courteous and professional manner in which I had engaged them online.

Ann and I know that we will likely field a number of similar reactions (or worse?) when we publish our book on sexual abuse in American Buddhism, as it will take an intersectional feminist approach and center survivors. Those I narrate here may be instructive of what we, or anyone producing public scholarship on sexual violation in religion, can expect. First, they are both from women, indicative of the fact that gender does not ensure a position supportive of survivors or survivor-centered work, and that it is not unusual for women to intervene to defend those in power. Second, both pushed against this work from insider positions that were marked. In one case, insider status was marked by monastic robes, from which an assumption of superior knowledge in all things seemed to flow naturally. In the other, it was marked by explicitly claiming lineage membership and closeness to religious authority (and challenging my assumed lack of lineage membership). Third, the responses attacked, erased, or sneered at my academic qualifications and scholarly chops, apparently without doing the necessary work that would allow for an accurate assessment.

What I found most demoralizing about these online interactions is the fact that both critics erased survivors and their experiences in their desire to protect the structures of power and authority in which they had invested. Neither expressed much concern for what Buddhist survivors of abuse have experienced. My monastic critic defended the tradition by arguing that sexual abuse was not relevant in the Buddha’s time. This amounts to an anti-feminist reading of the tradition, one that ignores the multiple accounts of rape and sexual assault in early Buddhist sources. If we read the sources in this way, we are, in effect, modeling the erasure of sexual trauma as Buddhist. My Tibetan Buddhist critic implied that no violation rises to something actionable unless it can be adjudicated in court. She also effectively denied that power inequities affect a person’s ability to consent. While she claimed to speak for the Tibetan tradition as in insider, in fact her position is quite different from that of the several Tibetan teachers that have spoken out against abuse. The Tibetan Buddhist tradition is not univocal on the subject of sexual abuse.

It was not pleasant to field these unfair, disrespectful, and sometimes insulting responses to my work. It was heavy emotional labor to receive the aggression of strangers in the disembodied realms of social media, especially when it arrived in the form of multiple ranting private messages at 2 AM. The affective experience of these exchanges was made stranger by the fact that they were often laced with Buddhist wishes that I “awaken my mindstream” and that “all sentient beings be happy.”

Receiving strangers’ aggression online felt confusing and toxic to me, but what I experienced was mostly a deflection of the hostility and obfuscation that is more often directed at the survivors themselves. It is common for survivors of abuse to have their legitimacy, commitment, honesty, and experience-based knowledge challenged and erased, up close and in person, within their own communities. . . often by people that are insisting on the good intentions and wise minds of their abusers.

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Why Are White Buddhists So Angry? White Rage and Buddhist Studies Scholarship

Today’s post comes from Ann Gleig. Ann is a scholar of religion at the University of Central Florida, and the author of American Dharma: Buddhism Beyond Modernity (Yale University Press, 2019). You can read an earlier post by Ann, together with Amy Langenberg, here.) This time Ann reflects on her experiences as a Buddhist scholar on the receiving end of white rage.

Steve: “Scary, postmodern virus infects North American Buddhism.”

Me: “Thanks for showing us what PoC Buddhists have to deal with every day in their sanghas, Steve.”

Steve: “Keep playing the victim.”

Me: “I notice your Twitter profile says “Zen Beginner,” maybe you could learn something from the Zen teachers in this book, who have been practicing for decades. Stretch that Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, Steve!”

Steve: deletes thread and blocks me.[1]

The preceding was a short exchange I had with Steve, a stranger, on Twitter, after I tweeted about the publication of George Yancy and Emily McRae’s 2019 edited collection Buddhism and Whiteness. The book contained essays by Buddhist scholars and scholar-practitioners examining both how whiteness operates in Buddhist practice and academic communities, and what resources Buddhist thought and practice offer for challenging whiteness. While this was the first academic collection to attend to whiteness in Buddhism, Buddhists of Color have been confronting whiteness in American Buddhism for over two and a half decades. The landmark 2000 compilation Making the Invisible Visible: Healing Racism in our Buddhist Communities, for instance, shared that for many years the white Euro-American sangha has been resistant to efforts by People of Color to raise awareness of racism in Buddhist communities.

Twenty years later, the same white resistance is all too visible in Steve’s Twitter tantrum about Buddhism and Whiteness, a response which, ironically, performs the very thing he was denying existed. Drawing on similar responses, I want to make visible a specific expression of whiteness—what African American historian Carol Anderson has identified as “white rage”—directed at scholars of and scholarship on religion and racial justice.  

The Many Faces of White Buddhist Rage  

In 2016, Carol Anderson published White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide, a searing history of white anger, resentment, and backlash against Black political and social progress. In his review of White Rage, Jesse McCarthy explains the book’s origins and intention:

In August 2014, as the headlines from Ferguson focused on the eruption of black rage, Anderson, a professor of African-­American studies at Emory University, wrote a dissenting op-ed in The Washington Post arguing that the events were better understood as white backlash at a moment of black progress, a social and political pattern that she reminded readers was as old as the nation itself. Her essay became the kernel for this book, which expands and illustrates her thesis. “I set out to make white rage visible,” Anderson writes in her introduction, “to blow graphite onto that hidden fingerprint and trace its historic movements over the past 150 years.[2]

In their recent book, The Religion of White Rage: Religious Fervor, White Workers, and the Myth of Black Racial Progress, scholars Stephen C. Finley, Biko Mandela Gray and Lori Latrice Martin extend Anderson’s work on white rage to religion. Anderson’s reframing of the narrative from Black anger to white rage also resonates with what I was finding in my research on racial justice in American Buddhism. Many Buddhists of Color have reported that white Buddhists often oppose racial justice efforts on the charges that they are motivated by anger and therefore not legitimately Buddhist. I had encountered the same objection directly tracking white Buddhist backlash to racial justice.

What has been left out of this conversation, however, is a reflection on white Buddhist rage—the white Buddhist backlash against racial justice gains in their communities. White Buddhist rage has many faces: innocence, denial, condescension, ridicule, resentment, and hatred. A glance at any comment thread under articles on Buddhism, racial justice and whiteness will show one or more of these different expressions. American Studies professor and Buddhist practitioner Funie Hsu received so much white Buddhist rage because of her article on the exclusion of Asian American Buddhists that Lion’s Roar magazine subsequently commissioned Ajahn Amaro, a white Theravadin monastic, to write in support of her work.

My own research has also been on the receiving end of white rage. One commentator under “Buddhists and Racial Justice: A History,” claimed “White privilege is racial profiling…Buddhists should know better than to pick sides and use racist terminology,” before presenting statistics on “black on black crime. Another declared “You cannot be ‘white’ and ‘Buddhist’ and ‘privileged’…and if you are it will not last it will be taken off of you and given to a more ‘deserving’ black or poc ‘Buddhist’ person…or ‘teacher’ as they call them.” After Hebah Farrag and I published an article on the spirituality of Black Lives Matter.—which included the influence of BLM on racial justice work in Buddhism—we both received several hate email. One of these called Black Lives Matter “a cult, evil and out to destroy Western Civilization,” and advised us to “Open your eyes and get real jobs.”

Similar, after publishing a more general piece on white privilege and redlining I received several emails, through both my work and social media accounts, ranging from condescending to aggressive. One white male shared that he has searched my “Rate Your Professor” evaluations and could see I was an excellent professor but obviously needed to read more conservative explanations of wealth and health racial disparities. Another reported that he had discovered I was British and come to the (erroneous) conclusion that I must have grown up very privileged and was now trying to divide Americans. A third was more direct, declaring: “You should be fired for your recent article. You are a disgrace to UCF.”  

White Buddhas

Responding to White Rage

My encounters with white [Buddhist] rage have significantly shaped my scholarly trajectory, pushing me from documenting and contextualizing racial justice work in American Buddhism to explicitly advocating for it. In a recent publication charting the reactionary right-wing Buddhist backlash to racial justice, co-written with Brenna Artinger, for instance, we make transparent our anti-racist research commitment and align ourselves with what Nancy Scheper-Hughes (2006) calls “the ethics of witnessing” in which ethnography is undertaken with an intentional commitment to vulnerable populations. In addition to cataloguing the right-wing backlash to racial justice, I have also directly confronted it. On social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, I have used a variety of strategies to challenge whiteness in Buddhism: educated dialogue, confrontation, humor, or simply ignoring and blocking.   

One example came after I published a short personal reflection on thinking about Covid from an engaged Buddhist perspective for Buddhist magazine Lion’s Roar. Here I emphasize how Covid death rates and treatment have highlighted racial disparities in health care between white and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) Americans. One online response to the piece on Lion’s Roar Facebook page was particularly hostile. Susan began sharply with a complete dismissal of the piece as “sheer nonsense” and a personal attack dubbing me a “left leaning would be academic,” and questioning whether I was a real Buddhist. I started an educated dialogue with Susan, offering some canonical resources, as well as historical context on engaged Buddhism to contextualize racial justice work. Each response, however, merely elicited a new line of attack, suggesting that her aversion was rooted more in resentment than reason.   

Another strategy I have employed is to ignore but make visible and to creatively subvert some of the hostility directed towards me. When Ade, an administrator of the Facebook group Contemporary Buddhism posted a diatribe against me and my piece, claiming that I was attempting “to  “pervert the dharma by means of identity politics,” I decided not to directly engage. Quite frankly supporting comments such as, “I’m so speeciaaal that I have to have my own river of suffering,” “People bleating utter nonsense about things they obviously know fuck all about,” and “you can’t polish a turd,” left me with little confidence that education was possible. Instead, I screenshot his post and re-tweeted under the title of ANN GLEIG, DHARMA PERVERT. After Ade continued to write sneering posts of other female engaged Buddhists who were advocating against white supremacy, I simply blocked him.

The Threat of White Rage

Confronting white rage has a cost. I myself know two female scholars who are weary of engaging with public scholarship on Buddhism and racial justice, because of either actual or anticipated aggressive responses. One of these received hate mail threatening a “cyber-attack” after she had given a talk on whiteness and Buddhism. Scholars working on whiteness and racial justice are often forced to make difficult decisions between their personal/professional safety and well-being and having their work be available in the public sphere. After disturbing tweets from self-identified alt-right Buddhists, Brenna Grace Artinger and I had to request the registration list be carefully monitored and no recording be made of recent lectures we have given on our research on reactionary right-wing backlashes to racial justice. Reflecting on the misogynist attacks she received, Audrey Truschke powerfully reminds us that minority scholars –female, non-binary, scholars of color, junior, and contingent—are particularly vulnerable.

In addition to the interpersonal threat, scholars working with critical race theory in the United States are increasingly facing institutional and legal vulnerabilities. Following the gains of the Black Lives Matter Movement, after the murder of George Floyd in summer 2020, classical liberals, Christian evangelicals and Republicans caricatured and launched a full-on attack on critical race theory. This culminated in Trump passing an Executive Order banning diversity training, which had immediate impacts in higher education. Despite Biden reversing the order, many Republicans continue to push related legislation. In response to a university book panel on Finley, Gray and Martin’s The Religion of White Rage, a legislator from Louisiana raised public concerns and has proposed a bill that could make it illegal for schools to teach about structural racism.

In my own state of Florida, Republicans are pushing a bill that threatens academics under weaponized concerns for “free speech” and to supposedly guarantee intellectual diversity.

Naming White Rage in Religious Studies Scholarship

Despite the threat of confronting white rage, I remain committed to do so for three main reasons:

First, scholars of color, particularly Black scholars, routinely face intense vitriolic hatred and threats of violence for their work on religion and racial justice. George Yancy, the co-editor of Buddhism and Whiteness, analyzed the white racist vitriol including death threats he received after his stunning editorial Dear White America. African American scholar Anthea Butler catalogued some of the hate mail she received after writing her powerful essay “The Zimmerman Acquittal: America’s Racist God.” White scholars simply must step up and carry some of the affective burden of naming the operations of whiteness in religion and philosophy.  

Second, a growing number of Buddhist Studies scholars are recognizing and seeking to confront Buddhist Studies’ ongoing legacy of colonialism and Orientalism. As Tibetan Buddhist scholar Constance Kassor concisely puts it: Buddhist Studies Has A Whiteness Problem. I consider work on racial justice in contemporary Buddhism as one way to confront and correct this legacy. 

Third, my ethnographic scholarship—and the academic recognition it has brought me—has been largely dependent on the generosity of Buddhists of Color who have given me their time and trust. Confronting and contextualizing white Buddhist rage through anti-racist scholarship is one way I have been able to reciprocate. Academic work can have a real impact for practitioners undertaking anti-racist work in Buddhist communities. 

While confronting white rage in religious scholarship is crucial, placing the burden on individual scholars, particularly scholars of color, is insufficient. Confronting whiteness in religious studies must be done collectively with not just symbolic but also material means of support from academic bodies and institutions.

[1]  May 29, 2019.

[2] Jesse McCarthy, “Why Are Whites So Angry?” New York Times, June 24, 2016.

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Introducing The Shiloh Pushback Series: “Abuse in the Academy…”

Over the coming weeks, we are hosting a series of blog posts relating to abuse experienced by academics as the result of their research.

Within the academy, there is a toxic culture of competitiveness, including battles for grant funding, struggles with the recruitment of students, and an anxiety-infused pressure to be productive in terms of research outputs and knowledge exchange. Precarious employment is too common, and the looming threat of cuts and redundancies are acutely felt across many disciplines, not least of all of theology, religion and biblical studies. All of this is fuelled by a capitalist system of higher education. The ivory towers not only have a cloud hanging over them, but they are stained with the blood, sweat and tears of burnt-out academics.

Academics attack one another in myriad ways. #Reviewer2 has gained notoriety to reflect the harsh and tactless derision of a scholar’s work through the peer review process. Tweets and hashtags on social media pay testament to many academics’ experiences when a reviewer’s critique lacks humanity and is enabled by the blind peer review process. Or, the “more of a comment than a question” scenario, where attention is stolen from a researcher’s work through the performative confidence of another academic; the latter completely lacking in any ability to engage constructively with the speaker. Other, more overt attacks exist.

The abuse we are discussing in this series of blog posts is in no way related to the critique of thoughts, theories and methods that are expected in the academy to ensure constructive and generative dialogue in our respected disciplines. Rather, it takes the form of micro-aggressions, verbal attacks, public attempts at shaming (including and especially using social media platforms), gatekeeping, excluding and shunning an academic and their work, or putting further barriers into the promotion of their research in the wider community. Sadly, these are far too common in academia to ignore.

These attacks bear little significance to the academic work being attacked, but instead are the result of conscious prejudices. They are often projected against women, Black, Asian, African, Hispanic scholars, LGBTQ+ people, disabled people, and working-class academics. They are, simply put, the manifestations of misogyny, racism, homo-bi-trans-phobia, ableism, and classism.

In Other, Please Specify (2018, University of California Press), Jane Ward writes about her own experiences in a toxic work environment in the discipline of sociology. She comments,

“The fervor and sanctimony with which many […] have guarded the gates of the discipline and asserted the privileged position of their own epistemological and methodological preferences raises some basic questions about the politic stakes at hand. What, precisely, are they guarding? Why is there so much resistance in a discipline built upon the study of social change? How can these scholars, who are seemingly so troubled by new theories and research methods, not see the low stakes of methodological squabbles in the grand scheme of the world’s social problems?” (p.56)

Kristen Schilt also notes that, by erecting and maintaining rigid and “traditional” disciplinary boundaries, ideological critiques are masked as objective criticism. Schilt describes the intersectional and institutional strategies that push academics to the margins or into exile. She describes the “three Rs” as resistance, reduction and ridicule:

  • Resistance: “the attempt to erect boundaries against an emerging area of inquiry”
  • Reduction: “the attempt to dismiss scholarship … as too ‘fringe’”
  • Ridicule: “an attempt to devalue scholarship…by positioning it as absurd” (p.39).

Academic-on-academic abuse is rife, but it is not the only sort of abuse our bloggers experience. In engaging with the study of religion from critical and non-orthodox perspectives, an academic’s work is often on the receiving end of uninvited feedback from members of the public and religious groups – we will hear more about this in upcoming posts. Yet, it isn’t only an individual’s work that is derided, but aspects of who they are. In one example, former co-director of the Shiloh Project, Dr Katie Edwards, writes on her experiences of classism, and accentism, within the academy:

“I regularly receive horrified emails from those who’ve heard me speak wondering why on earth I was given a job in a university when I sound, and I quote, ‘like you’ve never even attended school’. These attitudes used to upset me, but nowadays I couldn’t give a toss; my accent and use of dialect words gives me a strong sense of connection to the people and places I love.”

Despite these experiences, Katie now uses her enchanting accent in a fruitful career as a broadcaster and writer.

There are damaging consequences of this abuse, though, and the Shiloh Project is committed to calling out abuse in all forms. For many academics, abuse that is obfuscated as constructive objectivity can lead to a real paralysis in their academic work. Feelings of loneliness, isolation and not being good enough manifest, and compound an often already well-established embodied experience of imposter syndrome.

The bloggers in this series are sharing some of their professional and personal experiences, and, in some ways, remove the professional mask that usually obfuscates any vulnerability. Yet, it is precisely this vulnerability that can be a catalyst for change. Brené Brown speaks more forcefully about the rich potential of the power of vulnerability. Emotive stories about pushback our academics have received has been a fuel for productivity and action. More importantly, it is a call to the need to create change – in our responses to others, in reviews of others’ work. In sharing vulnerable episodes of our academic lives, the bloggers in this series demonstrate the urgent need for intellectual relationships built on empathy, kindness, support and a space to belong within the academy.

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