James Crossley's blog Contact: jgcrossley10 - AT - yahoo - DOT - co - DOT - uk

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A question...

The phrase 'very Jewish' (or the like) is very common in NT studies. What does it mean?

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

More on gender and blogging

One reason why some people might not be overly keen on the ways in which some of the discussion (and I have no one in particular in mind here - just some general comments) over gender and biblioblogging is that there is a lot of material written on gender and scholarship which seems to be largely overlooked in the blogging discussions. If this debate is to be taken further, maybe some further interaction with the ways in which privileged liberal scholarship can actually perpetuate certain existing power relations, even if changing the role of previously isolated people within a relatively elite culture. I've alluded to such things before but one book which really deals with such issues in depth and immersed in gender studies is the latest from Caroline Vander Stichele and Todd Penner, Contextualizing Gender in Early Christian Discourse Thinking beyond Thecla (2009). This book has a lot to say on gender, power, intellectuals and the academy (see esp. chapter 4). Here's an extract from pp. 168-69:
One might think here of someone working on Asian Biblical Hermeneutics, or with a feminist agenda, or a queer approach, for in all cases the assumption is that we will have, respectively, an “Asian,” a “female,” and a “gay” or a “queer” person (or at least individuals who are perceived as such by the dominant structure) being the ones promoting the marginalized work. Thus, there is a correlation between the type of nonnormative work undertaken and an essentialized (even as it is otherized) identity. There is often even an overdetermination of the difference of the “other” in this respect (whether that “other” is a specific method or content), while the center appears to lack the cultural, racial, ideological, and so on bases that defines the “other.” Thus, the absence of these facets from the center defines the center of the discipline—here historical studies—as neutral. Moreover, while the “Asian-American” critic or the “female feminist” can point out the perceived ideological nature of the dominant “male” perspective, the normative “male” center—consisting of those who perform as white, heterosexual males—are expected to maintain the fundamental guild structures. And thus the gendered, sexed, and sexual character (but one could add other factors here too, such as race/ethnicity, class, disability) of the guild structure is highly essentialist in its ways of knowing and the methods used...
...biblical scholars too tend to project sexual identity onto the often marginalized Other while de-sexualizing their own standpoint. Again, the “other” here is overdetermined, while the center is represented by absence and lack of specificity. It thus passes as “normative” and consequently its power is masked. Rather than providing challenges to the larger structures of the guild, then, these other perspectives enable the center to solidify its hold. Therefore, alleged political and ethical work undertaken by scholars claiming to be enacting such, in fact, paradoxically sustains hegemony rather than dismantling it as intended. While much is made of the shift in scholarship towards recognizing personal and cultural biases and locations in interpretation of biblical texts, and while these “movements” and shifts in scholarship have touted themselves as a challenge to the hegemonic tradition of “objective” “scientific” analysis, in principle these two seeming polar opposite positions are not in conflict with each other. In a way, the hegemonic male-centered guild, particularly in its current social and cultural context, actually needs this dissent in order to maintain its firm grasp. Thus, for instance, the Society of Biblical Literature has spaces for alternative scholarship (and committees on the status of women in the academy, for instance) but still sustains a male-centered structure. Therefore, the difference that is tolerated does not challenge the phallogocentric and colonial structures of the guild. The illusion of inclusion is essential, particularly in a guild that fully endorses modern liberal discourses of individual freedom and tolerance. Yet, while it is often assumed that the guild has a fractured identity, with say feminist and postcolonial theorists raising ideological questions that seem to be ignored by traditional and conventional scholarship, if we take seriously the structure of the guild as outlined here, then the two spheres are rather working in tandem and sustain a larger normativity related to identity and subjectivity, particularly as those intersect with politics, culture, and society in this period of globalized capitalism (and capitalist globalism).

Ethics in the Bible?

Philip Davies' has published the essay 'Are There Ethics in the Hebrew Bible?' at Bible and Interpretation. Here's an extract:
There are various systems determining human behavior. The best known comprises, the “commandments” or “laws,” supposedly dictated by the invisible god and stipulating that humans should not kill, steal, commit adultery or worship any god but this one, etc. What are the reasons for such behavior? That it is good to obey divine commands—additional motivation being provided by threatened consequences of neglecting to do so. However, “only obeying orders” was summarily dismissed as a defense at the Nuremberg trials and although in some circumstances one can still plead “higher authority” as a defense against charges of misconduct, these pleas do not constitute an assertion of ethical behavior: they are just a get-out where one has clearly behaved unethically...
...the Bible is culturally totalitarian—unsurprisingly, because it emanates from a totalitarian world of monarchic societies. The development of monarchic religion in the Bible is hardly a supreme religious insight. Rather, it parallels the growth of ever-larger political units. Instead of local city-rulers fighting for supremacy (and their gods likewise), a supreme, if remote, “king of kings” controls everything (always through officials, of course), the semblance of world order that this emperor celebrates being reflected is the cosmic order governed by a supreme deity. (Plato’s monotheism, by contrast, has to be explained differently).
Western civilization, then, does not get ethics from the Bible (and I would say, not even from the New Testament, but I don’t have room to argue that. Go figure.)

Dunedin wheels out the big guns...

Steph Fisher and James Harding have joined the Dunedin School.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Not a Conspiracy Theory

As everyone no doubt now knows the old debate on gender and blogging has re-emerged with many, perhaps most, claiming their liberal credentials. Just one point general point: the idea of conspiracy theory (see e.g. Mike Bird's blog but the following criticisms certainly apply to many). Now, several posts have openly talked about broader institutional problems in higher education or organised religion (lack of women represented in higher education etc) and that seems dead right and that is typically how ideological analyses of higher education and intellectual culture work (from gender to a variety of other issues relating to power - class, race and so on). Of course, there will always be the odd crazy (or possibly even decent) individual who'll have an influence on things but do people really need to be defending themselves against charges of being personally misongynist and so on? Instead, if people want to continue this debate, perhaps the following could be a guide: a) avoid the defence of how the given blogger is indiviudally not sexist; b) avoid the mildly angst-ridden liberal rhetoric; c) keep critiquing cultural and social trends which maintain gender roles and power structures and so on and so on and so on; d) look at how dominant power roles in groups influence general outputs, irrespective of how wonderfully liberal given person is, and, for the love of all things holy, e) avoid the impression that listing favourite women might just be little more than tokenism (Jim West was right to critique this sort of thing).