RRS Conference: Paper Deadline Extended!

Research in Religious Studies Conference
For Undergraduate and Masters Students

University of Calgary

May 8-9, 2014

The paper proposals piled in late last week, and it looks like we are going to have a great show. There is still room for some more, so we will be accepting papers until ca. April 16 (or until we run out of class rooms to put people).

So, Get Yer Proposals In!


Religious Literacy, Diversity & Transformation Week: U. of Calgary, May 7-11

The Dept. of Religious Studies at the University of Calgary must be having fun (i.e., panicking) over the all the academic conferring that will go on there in early May with their

Religious Literacy, Diversity & Transformation Week.



Besides the Pacific Northwest Regional Meeting of the AAR/SBL (May 9-11), and the Research in Religious Studies Conference (May 8-9) they are also teaming up with the U of Calgary’s  Faith & Spirituality Centre and hosting  Chris Stedman, author of “Faithiest“, and Assistant Humanist Chaplain at Harvard University.


Chris Steadman

In his book Faitheist, Chris Stedman makes a passionate argument that atheists should engage religious diversity respectfully. Becoming aware of injustice, and craving community, Stedman became a “born-again” Christian only to encounter staunch homophobia at a time when he was slowly coming to realize that he was gay. The great suffering he experienced might have turned Stedman into a life-long “New Atheist.” But over time he came to know more open-minded Christians, and found that his disdain and hostility toward religion was holding him back from engaging in meaningful work with people of faith. 

As someone who has stood on both sides of the divide, Stedman is uniquely positioned to present a way for atheists and the religious to find common ground and work together to make this world—the one world we can all agree on—a better place. 

Date: Wed. May 7, 2014 
Time: 7:00pm – 10:00 pm 
Location: MacEwan Hall A&B 

Early Bird tickets available until April 15, 2014: 
$10 Students 
$20 Public 
$120 for a table of seven 

After April 15, 2014 

$15 Students 
$25 Public 

Evening will include a lecture, Q&A, table discussion and book signing. Light refreshments and appetizers will be served. 

Also speaking during the week will be Dr. Peter Beyer from the University of Ottawa. A sociologist of Religion, Dr Beyer will present a keynote lecture on the religiously diverse landscape of Canada, its promises and perils.


 University of Ottawa
Dept of Classics and Religious Studies
Member of the Religion and Diversity Project of Canada

“Religious Diversity in Canada: Secularism, Multiculturalism, Pluralism” with Dr. Peter Beyer

The topic of religious diversity in Canada introduces a number of ambiguities. On the one hand, we appear to celebrate and promote such diversity. On the other hand, religion and the diversity of religion appear to be worrying sources of potential problems and contradictions. Taking its cue from research being conducted under the umbrella of the Canada-wide and international Religion and Diversity Project, this lecture focuses on four central issues: how do we in Canada, as individuals, groups, and institutions understand religious diversity; how do we seek to expressly limit that diversity; why and how does controversy surrounding religious diversity seem to manifest itself more often than not with reference to gender, sexuality and uses of the body; and what might it mean to relate to religious diversity in ways that move beyond simply tolerating and accommodating it?

Wednesday, May 7, 2014
The Loft, MSC 487 (next to Women’s Resource Centre)

Prof. Beyer is also scheduled to be the keynote speaker for RRS Conference on Thursday Night (May 8).

The Religious Literacy, Diversity & Transformation Week is also hosting Leroy Little Bear, of the University of Lethbridge  (oddly enough, I’ve never actually met him!)> He was the first director of the American Indian Program at Harvard University and also for 25 years the Chair of the Native Studies program at the University of Lethbridge.


Join members of the Pacific Northwest Region of the American Academy of Religion, Society of Biblical Literature and American Schools of Oriental Research for the Plenary Address and Dinner

Date: Saturday May 10, 2014
Time: 6:30 pm – 10:00 pm
Location: MacEwan Hall Ballroom
Cost: $50.00 (includes buffet dinner)

May Contain Nuts and B.S. (Biblical Studies)



The Highest Award for Biblical Scholarship (apparently)

No, I haven’t won it (yet). BUT…

My “other” SBL paper got accepted for the Blogging session at SBL San Diego in November! The full title:

May Contain Nuts and B.S. (Biblical Studies):
The Politics of 
Academic Legitimacy Online and the
Need to Properly Theorize the Category “@%!#*! Loonie”
(I like the  “@%!#*! Loonie” part)

I’ve been wanting to do a paper for that session for some time, but never got around it, mostly for want of something to say. They do seem to have a lot of fun, though. Anyway, this time I’m in on the goodness.

The Blurb:

Blogging provides many biblical scholars with a simple and fast way of presenting their academic views to a general public, even if there is little prestige or formal recognition for serious, academic posts. The benefit seems to lie in the quick networking of ideas and the building of relationships between scholars. The medium also allows scholars to easily play the role of accessible public intellectual, something badly needed in a world that has devalued advanced education.

The Internet’s lack of censorship guarantees a high level of academic freedom but it also subjects scholars to an equally high level of non-academic freedom. Not only is there a complete lack of peer review, the likelihood that any serious post may attract unwanted attention from those with no understanding of the subject matter or fringe theory or doctrine to promote is very real. With most bloggers allowing readers some freedom to comment without moderation, discussions can be easily sidetracked into tangential or completely off-topic exchanges that can get acrimonious very quickly. Disallowing or vetting comments also smacks of censorship and may actually play into the hands of those who see critical scholarship as a self-absorbed ivory tower or even conspiracy against the “Truth.” This paper, then, offers a critical examination of how scholarly bloggers assert the validity of the academic study of the bible, their own academic legitimacy. It also examines the “othering” of non-mainstream theorists, religious fundamentalists, anti-intellectualists, purveyors of alternate histories, internet “trolls”, and assorted “dilettantes” and “crackpots”, and attempts to gauge the impact this may have on the practice of biblical scholarship and  its reception by a wider audience.

I posted about my other “other” paper here.

Research in Religious Studies Conference Call of Papers Reminder

We are again scrambling to get our Research in Religious Studies Conference organized, with some excellent paper proposals rolling in. We are on the look out for more, however! The conference  will be held at the University of Calgary, May 8-9, just prior to the annual meeting of the Pacific Northwest Region of the  American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Literature (May 9-11). Participation is open to undergraduate and Masters level students and papers on any topic touching on religion from any academic discipline will certainly be considered. The deadline is April 4, but we may consider extending it beyond then.

Here’s a few abstracts we’ve already accepted:

“The Dark Messiah and the Devotee:
Salomé, Aubrey Beardsley, and the ‘Decadent Religion of Art.’”

Morgan Hopkins, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta

Aubrey Beardsley was a quintessential symbol of fin-de-siècle England, a decade characterized by feverish discourse on sexuality, transition, spiritual ambiguity, decadence, and exoticism. Pre-eminent Beardsleyan scholar, Dr. Chris Snodgrass, has described the artist as being a proponent of the “ruling order of the decadents—an artistic coterie dedicated to the new Religion of Art,” (Snodgrass, 1995). But what exactly is ‘Decadence?’ What is the ‘Religion of Art?’ Furthermore, how do these influences manifest within Beardsley’s praxis? This paper explores not only the nuances and ambiguities of these movements, but also the ways in which Beardsley’s art facilitates a dialogic relationship between them. It considers the extent of his ‘devotion’ through an iconographical and theoretical analysis of six of his illustrations for the English version of Oscar Wilde’s Salomé. This work challenges traditional interpretations not only of the movements, but also of Beardsley himself, and the infamous femme fatale Salomé. Ultimately, it posits the Religion of Art as one of the many new transcendent principles of organization established during the ‘Victorian Religious Unsettlement.’

From Wikimedia.org


The Evolution of Creationism:
A Reaction to Evolutionary Influence in America

Jesse Pawlak, Red Deer College

According to a recent Gallup poll, 78% of Americans believe in some variety of Creationism (Gallup). Of this, 46% believe in a literalistic biblical approach while 32% believe there to be some element of intelligent design within the evolutionary process. (Gallup). With such a staggering number of Americans in favor of some variety of creationism, it may be surprising to learn that American creationism is not the original theory explaining the origins of life. The theory of evolution, in fact, predates the birth of coherent American creationism by over fifty years. American creationism only appears in the early twentieth century in reaction to the spread of evolution in America (Lienesch 8). This paper will discuss the how the three most prominent branches of creationism, (fundamentalist creationism, creation science and intelligent design) emerge in reaction to the spread of the theory of evolution in America. Each branch will be discussed in turn with an emphasis on how the methodology and function of each changes in response to conflict with the theory of evolution.

Stolen from Bay of Fundies

Stolen from Bay of Fundies


Anyway, still time to propose a paper. Get to it!

An SBL Paper In Search of the Biblical Flintstones?

The Metacriticism of Biblical Scholarship consultation for the 2014 Society of Biblical Literature meeting is getting its sessions in order and it looks like we have some really good papers.


Stolen from The Friendly Atheist, who got it from Joel Pett.

The exception is this one, by yours truly:

In Search of the Biblical Flintstones?
Some Thoughts on Creationism, Academic Freedom, and Scholarly Obligation
(Academic Freedom Session)

In early 2014, the famous science educator, Bill Nye, debated Ken Ham, the founder of Kentucky’s (in)famous Creation Museum. This event provided Ham with publicity and badly needed donations and earned Nye criticism for giving the impression that creationism was even worthy of scientific debate. In this paper I argue that secular biblical scholars should be at least as engaged in countering creationism, as are some scientists. Creationist objections to evolutionary and other sciences are not based on science but religion. What is really at stake is not the integrity of science but whether the creationists’ reading of the Bible is internally consistent and reasonable, let alone being the default mode of understanding it. Allowing scientists to carry the burden of refuting creationist claims presents the Bible to the public from polarized parties, neither of which are likely to give much heed to critical Bible research. Biblical scholars are much better trained than scientists in the calling the hermeneutics of creationists into question. Creationists also confront other Christians who maintain that evolution and an earth billions of years old are compatible with their faith. This directly affects some biblical scholars, as a number of Christian colleges are now enforcing compliance with a creationist doctrine. Non-religious biblical scholars should also defend their Christian counterparts against violations of ideals of academic freedom in Christian schools, even if, in the end, they may part ways on a number of issues, including whether “theistic evolution” makes sense. Since publically refuting creationism is not likely to convince many creationists to rethink their views, biblical scholars should direct their engagement with creationism to those who may be sitting on the fence, or have a curiosity about the Bible but no direct familiarity. Besides helping to defend science education from creationists, biblical scholars could also take the opportunity to the legitimacy and relevance of biblical scholarship in the public eye and combat the impression given by many noted science advocates that the Bible and religion is worthy only of denigration and not of serious inquiry as products of human culture.

All of this reminds me of the creationist Lolcat competition I ran a few years back. The winner was Martha G:



Just when you thought it was safe to get back into Biblical Studies: Dr. Jim gets published again.

Yup, I got an essay published in a new book:

“On the Authority of Dead Kings”

Deuteronomy-Kings as Emerging Authoritative Books: A Conversation
edited by Diana V. Edelman


Click the pic to go to the publisher’s website and order yourself a few dozen!

Here is the book’s blurb:

Explore how the past came to address the present and the future and why it became important for emerging Jewish identity.

Experts explore the themes and topics that made Deuteronomy and the Former Prophets appealing to ancient readers leading ultimately to those texts becoming authoritative for Persian and Hellenistic readers. This unique collection of essays focuses on what larger impact these texts might have had on primary and secondary audiences as part of emerging Torah. Contributors include Klaus-Peter Adam, Yairah Amit, Thomas M. Bolin, Philip R. Davies, Serge Frolov, Susanne Gilmayr-Bucher, E. Axel Knauf, Christoph Levin, James R. Linville, and Thomas Römer, and Diana V. Edelman.


    • Essays focused on why texts became authoritative instead of when they were written or their historicity
    • Two scholars examine each book providing a range of views
    • Coverage of the socio-religious function of emerging Torah in the Persian and early Hellenistic periods
Stolen from http://scottpaeth.typepad.com

Stolen from http://scottpaeth.typepad.com


Diana V. Edelman   “Introduction”

Philip R. Davies    “The Authority of Deuteronomy”

Christoph Levin  “Rereading Deuteronomy in the Persian and Hellenistic Periods:  The Ethics of Brotherhood and the Care of the Poor”

E. Axel Knauf    “Why “Joshua”?”

Serge Frolov “The Case of Joshua”

Yairah Amit   “Who Was Interested in the Book of Judges in the Persian-Hellenistic Periods?”

Susanne Gillmayr-Bucher   “Memories Laid to Rest: The Book of Judges in the Persian Period”

Thomas M. Bolin1–2 Samuel and Jewish Paideia in the Persian and Hellenistic Periods”

Klaus-Peter Adam   “What Made the Books of Samuel Authoritative in the Discourses of the Persian Period? Reflections on the Legal Discourse in 2 Samuel 14″

Thomas Romer   “The Case of the Book of Kings”

James R. Linville   “On the Authority of Dead Kings”


Here are a couple of short excerpts from the beginning of my contribution:

 For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground  
And tell sad stories of the death of kings. (Richard II  3.2:155–156)

Always remember that the crowd that applauds your coronation is the same crowd that will applaud your beheading. People like a show. (Terry Pratchett, Going Postal )

The book of Kings tells a story that has all the makings of a great show. It begins with the pathetic end of Israel’s most celebrated king and the rather scandalous rise to power of his successor. Solomon is celebrated as the legitimate and wise king only to have his glorious empire dismembered because of his own religious failings. The following tale of the divided kingdom ends with the destruction of both halves, despite the radical reformation and cultic purge of Josiah only decades before the ultimate fall. It is a story of power, intrigue, clashing dynasties and war set against a theme of divine judgment. Although a bit shy on explicit descriptions of scandalous sexual encounters, the book has its share of seemingly gratuitous violence. Besides the sheer entertainment value of Kings that lies in letting the reader voyeuristically share a god’s eye view on the rise and fall of a number dynasties, empires, prophets, monarchs, tyrants, and charlatans, what did the ancient readers find in it that it commanded enough respect on significant social matters to be copied and recopied over the centuries?

It might seem more intuitive to view the authority of a book about past events to lie in the perceived veracity of its story, but this can only take us so far in understanding the interpretative frameworks in which Kings was placed in the first half of the Second Temple period. While comparative evidence suggests that the presentation of events in Kings would hardly have been discounted, it was not the only presentation that could have won an audience. This essay will view the presence of contrasting histories as part of a social discourse that is always flexible and open-ended; Kings found its favorable reception amongst other documents that also earned a readership. In my opinion, the authority of Kings lies in its utility for constructing relevant meanings, rather than its inscription of ideological points validated by the population as a whole or the powers that be to the exclusion of other points of view. Part of this utility derives from its capitalization on ritual episodes and prototypical events in a myth-making enterprise that allows readers to reflect on the differences between their lives and the various social constructions found in Kings and other texts. Highlighting a few of these essentially mythic, provocative episodes will be the purpose of this essay.

“These aren’t the criteria you’re looking for” Myth and the Control of the Star Wars’ Canon (AKA The Empire Shot First but the Fans Strike Back)

That’s the title for my paper for the regional American Academy of Religion conference in Calgary, May 9-11. It’s the first time I’m doing one for the AAR, so this should be fun.


Here’s the blurb

These aren’t the criteria you’re looking for”  Myth and the Control of the Star Wars’ Canon (AKA The Empire Shot First but the Fans Strike Back)

The Star Wars franchise has generated considerable academic interest and some consider it a form of modern mythology. Others deny this because it lacks some characteristics of myth including communal ownership.  Recently, the Disney Corporation has sought to clarify what is “canonical” in Star Wars, hoping to maintain internal consistencies between the six films and the officially licensed, and still growing “expanded universe” of animated television shows, print media, video games and more. Many dedicated fans, however, have rejected Lucas’ revisions of the initial trio of movies, the three prequels and some of the expanded universe.  There is also “non-canonical” material produced by fans, many of whom belong to clubs, attend conventions or even claim to follow a Jedi “religion”, all of which is beyond the creative control of franchise owners. This is comparable to the interaction between religious canons some ostensibly non-canonical material may enjoy a high status with or without clerical sanction in a tradition. Such a comparison suggests that in evaluating the status of pop-cultural phenomena such as Star Wars as cultural mythology scholars should not privilege the holding of legal rights, large budgets and mass distribution over viewing the material as it functions in social and personal contexts even in defiance of “official” declarations of canonicity and orthodoxy. In this perspective Star Wars, like most other mythology, constantly regenerates itself as part of a living tradition even in the face of an empire that strikes back.


In keeping with the theme, the tentative schedule has my paper first in the Religion and Society section that opens the conference. The “fans” will probably shoot back…


Israelite Myth and Hebrew Prophets: My Regional SBL Paper, Calgary

I will be making two appearances at the Pacific Northwest Regional Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature and American Academy of Religion (May 9-11, 2014), University of Calgary. I will be doing two papers, one for each organization. The tentative schedule is here. Here is my SBL abstract:

Israelite Myth and Hebrew Prophets
(Tentatively scheduled for 4:30-5:10, Saturday, May 10 Room TBA)

Myth is a fundamental aspect of religions around the globe and the question of myth in the Hebrew Bible has long interested scholars. There remains, however, an unfortunate myopia about the social functions of myth within the discipline.  Besides the denigration of mythology vis-à-vis history that is still frequent especially in Biblical Studies’ more conservative wing, myth is typically understood as a more or less formal genre whose characteristics are comparable to ANE cosmogonic and cosmological traditions.  The biblical materials are sometimes said to be demythologized adaptations of or polemics against these non-Israelite exemplars. What is missing is awareness that all cultures are unique and that Judean myth may have several distinct characteristics that developed alongside other distinctly Judean religious and social constructs.

Much recent work on select books and passages in the Hebrew Bible have successfully avoided these pitfalls, but a more comprehensive study of the mythological universes of ancient Judean religion is needed. In this paper I outline a possible approach to Judean mythology as a functional property of wider cultural repertoires or symbolic universes. While the cosmology and cultural mythology of the Pentateuch may provide the most obvious case studies, I will apply the approach to the prophetic corpus as constituting an expression of mythology in its own right in its construction of a legacy of divine-human mediators. Indeed, no other ANE society is known to have valued the preservation and production of material about and ascribed to prophets so highly as ancient Judah.

If all goes well, this paper will be the first chapter of the book on myth and the prophets that I’ve been working on for ages. I’m going to get all J. Z. Smith-y and Burton Mack-esque in the book and talk about the “play” between the scribal institutions and the imagined world of ancient prophets and their “preserved” visions and oracles.

Wall-E in Edmonton: The Aftermath

My talk in Edmonton on Wall-E and Silent Running went very well. Jessica Swann was a great organizer and host, we have a very good turnout, and no one threw tomatoes at me! Who could ask for more?

It was great to see the U of Alberta crew again, Ehud, Francis, Jessica, Mike, John, Ian, etc. Had a good lunch with Jessica and Ehud, and wonderful dinner at 9th Street Cafe with a fun crowd including Mike Kok, and Peter Sabo.

The drive up to Edmonton was gruelling, with blowing snow, ice, and idiots all over the road. The trip back was much better although the snow was flying again south of Calgary.

Dr Jim Pontificating in Edmonton on Wall-E and Silent Running

This Friday (March 21), starting at 3:00 pm in L-2 of the Humanities Building

wall E

And the Lord Human made Huey, Dewey, Louie, Wall-E, and Eve.
The Deification of Humanity in Silent Running and Wall-E


 This is hopefully the final pre-publication version of the paper I’ve been playing with over the past year. My thanks to Jessica Swann of the U. of Alberta Religious Studies Grad Students Society for the invite and the organizing of everything!


El blurb:

The 1972 film, Silent Running (dir. Douglas Trumbull) and the 2008 hit animated feature, Wall-E  (dir. Andrew Stanton), revolve around themes of a future Earth unable to support vegetation. Both films freely adapt Genesis’s stories of paradise  and Noah’s ark, albeit to different ends. Neither film is a warning about the death of humanity because of environmental damage, but a call to “enlightenment”, i.e., to knowledge of a true relationship between nature and humanity. Yet, both films undermine this truth even as it is asserted as they seemingly put an ignorant humanity in the place of a deity as creators of robots that carry “true” human ideals.

Silent Running is set aboard one of a number of  giant spacecraft housing the last remnants of Earth’s forests. The story revolves around a crew member, Freeman Lowell, and the ship’s three robots (Huey, Dewey, and Louie). Enraged by an order to destroy the forest-domes so that the ship can return to commercial use, Lowell murders his crew-mates. Before committing suicide, he leaves one forest-dome in the care of Dewey.  Silent Running’s idealistic but disturbing hero is both Adam and Cain but also God, in appointing Dewey to biblical Adam’s task of preserving the garden.

The 2008 hit animated feature, Wall-E stars an earth-bound machine and his robotic romantic interest, Eve. Wall-E is a kind of inverted Adam figure, cleaning up the planet after it was abandoned by humans until vegetation can grow again.  Again, humanity is in no danger of extinction although they are unknowingly in the control of a computer system that does not want an Exodus back to earth. With children in its intended audience, Wall-E is a far more optimistic film.

The two films “humanize” the robots with emotions and they become idealized humans charged with a “sacred” mission on behalf of “natural” humanity. The films appear to be asking whether people can live up to the human potential of their own creations. As creators, however, humans assume the role of gods, but the two films differ on the potential of humanity to be restrained by the products of its own ingenuity.

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