Monday, September 10, 2007

SBL not an important venue for critique?

Again, I have to disagree with many of my good friends and those who have posted in the comments on my previous entries, that SBL is not the forum to critique the Pope's book.

Who attends SBL? Scholars of biblical literature and its cognate fields, ministers and other people of the cloth, graduate students and seminarians, editors and publishers. It is exactly these people who need to be discussing the Pope's book publically, and then returning home to talk to their parishioners and students about it. These are also the people who write books, articles, reviews, and speak to the media when called upon. It doesn't matter that SBL does not have a direct public audience. It is the direct scholarly, ministerial and student audience that will make the difference, who will individually bring the discussion back to their own enclaves in this world.

It is vital for the members of the Society of Biblical Literature to step up to the plate and address matters of the public and the bible. Much of what we do is erudite, but not all of it has to be. I think that as a Society, we must make a concerted effort to educate the public (beyond the classroom) about the academic study of religion - what it is about and how it is different from the doctrinal or theological study of religion. If we don't, we are only fostering the "religious illiteracy" of the public and its consequences (which reach deep within the political, social, economic, etc. spheres).

4 comments: said...

So how did the public 'religious illiteracy' come about, if not through the academics who trained students and ministers? said...

Over on crosstalk 2,, the academics are discussing the idea that Jesus was neither Jewish nor Christian. If the academics are so confused, it seems they have little chance of educating the 'religiously illiterate' public. This whole discussion there makes me laugh.

Judy Redman said...


I can see what you mean, and having never been to an SBL conference, I can't say how important it might be to discuss Benedict's book there. The point I was trying to make was that (just) discussing it there at an academic level isn't going help the the kind of people who will be influenced by the book. I don't get the impression that SBL sees its role as producing material for a more popular audience. Maybe it should, but I can understand why they didn't think a forum on the book would be appropriate.


I think that the public 'religious illiteracy' has come about through an elitist attitude on the part of clergy at least as much as from the way they have been trained. When I was training, the general attitude towards biblical scholarship was that you wouldn't teach it to members of your congregations because either they wouldn't understand it or it would make them lose their faith. Which means that when I do, I am often faced with angry people asking why nobody has ever told them this before because it has mad such a difference to their faith. said...

Judy, yes I realise how difficult it is to tell members of a church what you truly think and believe. For a long time, when I have attended church with my wife, who is traditional in her beliefs, I have taken the easy road and kept my views to myself. There are too many nice folk there I do not wish to upset.