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Sunday, July 02, 2006

Thoughts on Eagleton Conference

The Eagleton was an interesting look at what a prominent group of people (esp.literary/cultural critics do). It highlighted the obvious to me, namely that biblical studies and theology are a little odd in comparison with other universities disciplines. This is not necessarily bad thing though I think we do miss out on a lot. The conference was largely literary and cultural criticism and interestingly there was consistenly a historical element to the criticism. Now I'm not just talking about things like this piece of literature was written in so and so a time and this sheds light on this, that and the other. But rather in a whole host of different ways. Most obviously how a texts interacts with modes of production etc. but also some interesting use that parallels, I think, some strands of reception history, namely those which do not seek 'true' readings of a text but how various historical events are received and adapted etc. An example of this was the titleless paper by Seamus Deane. It was a good decision to leave it titleless as it spanned all sorts of areas. One of many areas was the sinking of the Lusitania the event which supposedly brought the US into WWI and how this was received (or not) in different texts.

Biblical studies often drifts into 'literature' or 'history' (not mutually exclusive I know) whereas this just wasn't entertained as is pretty typical of materialistic reading. There are many reasons for this tied up with the history of the discipline but it will be interesting to see if materialistic readings of non-liberation theological type will take off in biblical studies (R. Boer's Marxist Reading of the Bible or something like that is an obvious recent example and I know Jorunn ├śkland, also present, is doing some work along these lines). It is a very distinctive tradition outside biblical studies but its almost inevitable critique of texts and ideology will make its reception in biblical studies (and NT in particular) interesting viewing.

Although the 'literary' and 'cultural' elements were dominant (it was an Eagleton conference after all), there was some of the more typically 'historical' in one little debate that got sparked off involving deprevation and causal factors involved in historical change. It was the kind of debate I'd like to see happen more in studies of Xn origins.

There was of course the typically more 'historical' Alex Callinicos who made some comparisions with the left-Catholic theologian H. McCabe and the concept of revolution in Marxism and revolution in relation to overcoming death. In strands of Marxist tradition he noted that the finitude demands this worldly transformation. He also added more of his general critique of postmodernism.

Ah, there was loads at the conference and it is too much too think I'm going to summarise everything. In general what is particularly useful about going to such conferences is a reminder of a different way of thinking to biblical studies and that's no bad thing.

I hate to say this but I missed the last session which would have been particularly relevant you might think but I, erm, went to watch the football. Pre-Rooney's sending off that was a very, very boring game.


Blogger J. B. Hood said...

This is interesting James: "In general what is particularly useful about going to such conferences is a reminder of a different way of thinking to biblical studies and that's no bad thing."
I'm just wrapping up a course on reading German at the local university. I'm in there with Egyptology, history, English, and philosophy PhD students, and I'm continually amazed at the degree of overlap, at how integrally related our disciplines are; largely due to methodological revolutions loosely related to the 'postmodern turn', but also due to the universal tendency to bring in ideological angles...anyway I sense myself droning...

July 06, 2006

Anonymous Christopher Shell said...

For my part I was amazed at Cambridge in the mid-1990s how much sociology there was in NT studies, and how much semiotics in systematics.

Our area of study is superior to many others in being interdisciplinary (a bit like Classics): something which ensures that different dimensions are considered simultaneously, just like they should be. This applies not only to theology / religious studies as a whole, but even to NT studies, which is an amazingly and positively interdisciplinary thing. An inch wide and a mile deep - there is nothing quite like it.

Your example of trad historical criticism & reception history is clearly such a both-and; although if either of them could be pursued in isolation it would clearly have to be the first rather than the second.

July 06, 2006

Blogger James Crossley said...

Yes, biblical studies in interdisciplinary and that is a very good thing. But then the same can be said for other disciplines. History, English, etc.

My main problem with biblical studies (and maybe this applies to other disciplines) is that it is often behind the times. So, yes, sociology is rightly used but often it is very old sociology. A sociologist of religion once told me how shocking the amount of discredited stuff that still gets used in biblical studies. Think of hhow late literary criticism came into the discipline and then of the variety that was outdated in literary circles.

The Eagleton conference was interesting in that there is a whole load of literary criticism that is largely missing in biblical studies (probably for ideological reasons). While biblical studies is interdisciplinary I'm not sure it is always up-to-date and I'm not sure certain major approaches will always be welcomed.

As for the emergence of postmodernism, poststructuralism etc., this has indeed influenced biblical studies but how long did it take? I'm not sure on this but I have a suspicion that a comparison with other disciplines may reveal it to have impacted later.

That said, I have another suspicion that such approaches may, unlikely as it may seem, become the mainstream in the discipline because of the very basic idea of the collapse of 'objectivity'. This makes it much easier to justify a strongly faith based approach that was spoosedly (but not really) outlawed by many who practiced the old historical critical method. It is a contradiction in some sense as a faith based approach (like my own approach) almost has assume that alternative approaches may well be inaccurate. But the idea that 'all are vaild' open the door to explicitly ideological approaches...

July 09, 2006


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