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Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Pre-SBL: Bowdoin was a great place. Very civilised and sharp minds there. I was looked after particularly well (thanks to Jorunn Buckley in particular). The paper was on the general area of NT studies for a wide ranging audience at different levels: from interested lay people to established profs. The title was nice and broad and there was plenty of time (60mins) for me to go on. I tried to cover three major areas for the general reason of covering areas that could interest a range of people but for different specific reasons for each (as we’ll now see). 1. Traditional historical criticism. This was the most difficult because, as people are increasingly noting, what significantly more can be covered and said…? After suggesting a few reasons why people might even be interested in repeating endlessly, I did try to give a few basic examples where NT studies could develop and these involved culture and language (inc. on the v basic level some negative examples of where NT scholars write extensively on NT ‘background texts’ without bothering to learn the language of the given document) and then some of the inevitable tensions between acquiring languages and developments in knowledge. And then a bit on broader social history which seeks to provide explanations for Xn origins and uses methods from those working in history, with a little deconstructing of the rhetoric of ‘doing good history’ in NT studies.

Then I moved on to areas that are of more interest to me in recent times. So 2. Social history of NT scholarship and criticising the critics. This has the distinct advantage of being an area that has lots to do on the past of scholarship and plenty of continual material pumped out. I went over a few examples, such as the increasing awareness of Nazi NT scholarship, though also mentioning that people still uncritically use Nazi scholarship even in the recent debates over ‘Jew’/‘Judean’! I also went over more recent examples of some of the unpleasant generalisations about *contemporary* Arabs turn up in recent debates on the ‘Mediterranean’ and social sciences and how this fits neatly into Anglo-American Orientalist discourse since the 1970s. Like the audience, I still can’t quite believe that such old fashioned stereotypes are found in scholarship from the past decade or so and that such scholarship gets used so uncritically by NT scholarship today (more on that soon). It is worth emphasising that deconstructing does not require reconstructing (more on this on SBL papers) because it is using historical analysis to locate scholarship just as historical analysis locates NT texts and traditions. Why not use scholarship as primary sources?

3. Reception history. This covered more the Bible and popular culture rather than (say) C2 reception or traditional theological reception (e.g. Calvin, Luther, Liberation etc). The latter seem to be well represented and don’t need me to make their case. I raised questions I’ve raised here before and looked at the ways in which social contexts affect interpretation and the ways in which biblical texts might be embedded in contemporary culture. I also gently critiqued some of the more cataloguing of biblical allusions in music, film, politics or whatever and made the banal but still necessary point that social and historical contextualisation is a way of doing reception history just as it is with C1 readings, just as it is with scholarship. Naturally, examples were given from recent music.

A feature of this past week for me has been audience. At Bowdoin, it was the first time in a while for me that the audience was more generally humanities and religious studies. The feedback from people in other areas of religious studies was particularly interesting because some saw the same problems in the study of different scriptures and those religions usually far removed from the study of the NT. So maybe biblical studies isn’t as unique in its problems… After more great food fun, there was a reception with students which I think was a great idea. They were very good to talk to and were quite happy to ask suitably awkward questions. The difference between the US and the UK higher education system really struck me. To state the obvious (for some), in the UK, the higher education system is geared towards speciality from the beginning of a degree. So, for instance, a degree in biblical studies, English lit, sociology or whatever. In the US, there are a range of areas covered so naturally a broader base. I sometimes wonder if this could be reflected in the general differences between US and UK NT scholarship but more speculation, more time needed… Anyway, this meant some more wide-ranging discussion with students into different non-NT areas which I really enjoyed and helped me make different connections and think things through differently. Which system is better, is beyond me (yes detail is great, but yes wider learning is too…I dunno).


Anonymous steph said...

I think a wide ranging first degree is essential especially for school leavers who generally know nothing about life. UK scholars can tend to be so focused their whole life they are quite naive about so many things which actually have a bearing on religious studies. I also think that for something like biblical studies or theology, it's important to have learned about other religions. So many biblical scholars or theologians are ignorant of other religions, particularly Islam, and it shows. The ideal might be a first degree and then a second degree with more idea about the aim of your post graduate studies, and then post graduate obsession. That way we'd have well rounded specialists.

November 26, 2008

Anonymous Ibrahim A said...

The ideal might be a first degree and then a second degree with more idea about the aim of your post graduate studies, and then post graduate obsession. That way we'd have well rounded specialists.

The result of this system, though, are the necessarily much longer postgraduate degrees in North America, compared with the UK or Aust/NZ. How this might relate to scholarship is one question, another one is how this system relates to the social and economic differences in the particular countries. Spending 6-7 years full time study to be awarded a PhD in North America makes sense given the system of indentured labour that exists in postgrad/research universities there, as well as the large number of undergrad & research-based higher ed institutions at the other end. There seems a greater need in North America, too, to be able to teach a wide range of subjects.

November 28, 2008


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