More on academic freedom
Roland Boer has his suspicions about the way academic freedom is being used in the discussions of the Luedemann episode. I think he is largely right but I’d question those areas of ambiguity in Roland’s comments. Roland concludes:
I won’t go into what is really a long, long story, except to point out that the debate over academic freedom is actually a debate over which master you prefer. In the discussion about Luedemann, it’s clear that most prefer the state as master rather than the church, especially when it comes to that last battleground of theology and biblical studies. There is a double paradox here: first the state legislates for academic freedom, which thereby makes it a constraint; then it gives the illusion of such freedom and actively undermines it through preferred research areas, funded links with ‘business’, money with strings attached, and so on.I agree on the issue of state backing for the academic world. In Jesus in an Age of Terror I pushed this point hard, both on the relationship between higher education and universities and how this frames the questions in higher education, including biblical studies. In addition to the general point I tried to show this in practice in relation to Anglo-American foreign policies in the Middle East. I also concluded that the logic of such critique means that it could be very difficult for such arguments to be accepted in academia and so books that criticise the sensitive parts (so to speak) of state and intellectual power might be more effective outside the traditional walls of academia.
Roland also makes the general point (criticism?) that ‘In the discussion about Luedemann, it’s clear that most prefer the state as master rather than the church, especially when it comes to that last battleground of theology and biblical studies.’ I don’t know if ‘most’ is true or not. It may well be. But I’d add that I remain more hostile to the treatment of Luedemann than Roland because church interference is still a problem if (say) one goal is to reconstruct the life of Jesus and Christian origins. Now church power may not be what it once was but it does affect biblical studies in a way that it does not other disciplines and does disqualify questions and overall this has had both positives (theological perspectives) and negatives (anti-nontheological perspectives). The problems are minor compared to the ways in which state and private power/-influenced power has interfered (the most notable recent example being the case of Norman Finkelstein) and but ruling out certain questions is still a dubious way in (say) historical research and reconstruction. Because state power is a serious problem, doesn’t mean that the critique of religious power is necessarily wrong (not that Roland quite said that, of course, and Roland in his own comments section, which I noticed after I wrote all this,‘I tend to be very suspicious of both’). I’d push for the critiquing of both religious and state power in intellectual thought and that’s why I’m happy to criticise the treatment of Luedemann.
Here’s an aside…NT Wright, not for the first time, goes way over the top in his rhetoric when he suggests the following: ‘in the real world…the tyrants and bullies (including intellectual and cultural tyrants and bullies) try to rule by force, only to discover that in order do so they have to quash all rumours of resurrection, rumours that would imply that their greatest weapons, death and deconstruction, are not after all omnipotent.’ This strikes me as a little absurd and there may well be cases of certain unpleasant rulers believing in bodily resurrection (it would be interesting to find out what the Christian figures Reagan, Thatcher, Bush II, and Blair believed). Wright’s book though is as conservative and confessional as could be imagined in mainstream academia and Wright has worked at a major English university and academics in major academic positions have accepted key areas of Wright’s book. And Wright's book directly invokes the supernatural to explain Christian origins. Moreover, Wright is a major scholar of Christian origins with the support of major scholars of Christian origins so I’m not so sure his work on resurrection at least really feels the effect of cultural tyrants. Is it going too far to suggest, ‘quite the opposite’…?
Roland is no doubt right that theology/biblical studies is the last battle ground but crazy as I think Wright’s work on the resurrection is, I don’t think we should go as far as pushing this politically motivated agenda critiqued by Roland: ‘the scientific method, objectivity and critical inquiry joined the fray: to be ‘scientific’, ‘objective’ and ‘critical’ actually meant that you did not count God or the gods in the picture as a causal agent. They were and still are politically motivated claims – hardly objective at all.’ These sorts of views will no doubt be found in biblical studies and it could be argued that they may still remain important goals but setting the boundaries to exclude God/gods and divine causality isn’t done and shouldn’t be done, no matter how ridiculous some of us might think this approach to history is. Wright’s book and beliefs on resurrection are not only no serious threat to any state power but they are also no threat to the discipline of biblical studies as it stands. In biblical studies, with confessional dominance, the power is inevitably with believers and it is far more likely that we'd get more cases of a Luedemann threatened than a Wright (though I’d be very suspicious of motives if the state even bothered to intervene too much in issues like this – put another way, from the perspective of power, who cares?). We should not imagine that people still would not want to exclude others due to their beliefs. Michael Bird comes close to advocating a kind of censorship in academic university biblical studies in the comments section in previous post), at least when it comes to employing people in theology departments. These views may not be anything like as troublesome as the opponents of people like Finkelstein and Abu el-Haj but just because they are minor doesn’t mean they aren’t worth fighting (see also NT Wrong’s response to Mike – Mike never clarified in an answer sadly – and the discussion on Roland’s blog). And, I’d add, that if believers were the ones threatened in the way Luedemann was then I’d as happily challenge that mindset.
In fact, thinking about it, there’s little constructive in the above, is there? Just keep demolishing and, don’t forget kids, always fight the power and so on… Well, yes, but I think there is something constructive in what I say and there are plenty of constructive things to do in research but let’s spell those latter things out another time.
As I said, I noticed debate in the comments section on Roland’s blog which has some great interaction between Roland, NT Wrong and John Lyons which has loads of important stuff raised.