Some tentative thoughts on Jordan Peterson’s Fellowship withdrawal

I find it difficult to form a fixed and certain opinion about the recent news that Jordan Peterson has had the offer of a Fellowship at the University of Cambridge’s Divinity Faculty rescinded.

For one thing, I am unclear about the nature of this Fellowship – the criteria and processes for appointment.  Not having followed Jordan Peterson’s academic or celebrity career in great detail, I was initially surprised to see that the appointment was to the Faculty of Divinity, given that his field is Psychology. But he has in fact done considerable research into the psychology of religious belief.  Based on his academic credentials, therefore, I assume there is nothing absolutely egregious about the appointment.  He is a Professor at the University of Toronto and his 1999 monograph Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief seems to have been well received.

However his 12 Rules for Life seems to be more of a glorified self-help manual, and some of his recent activities, including his extensive public engagement and personality analysis and life coaching ventures seem less clearly academic.  Politics aside, someone who just saw Peterson’s academic CV might have a different expectation from his proposed lecture series on the Bible than someone who knew about his more recent public profile.

I find Peterson a little elusive.  His opponents often overshoot the mark – see for example my post on his interview with Cathy Newman – but that doesn’t mean that his views aren’t sometimes pretty problematic in my opinion. His comments on enforced monogamy are a good example.

Another problem I have with Peterson is his apparent allure for people with views more extreme than those he explicitly endorses. (I have a parallel problem with certain public figures on the left.) A reflection of this – and a point which may be of particular relevance to the news from Cambridge – is the fact that Rebel Media apparently raised a large sum of money for Peterson after he failed to secure a research grant. This Canadian group has associations with various controversial figures including Katie Hopkins and Tommy Robinson.

However I also found this, from the University’s Student Union, rather chilling:

“His work and views are not representative of the student body and as such we do not see his visit as a valuable contribution to the University”

They noted that his appointment would be a ‘political act’ – but so is its withdrawal.