Academic Freedom and Biblical Scholarship

Another in a long series of rebooting this blog…

I’m co-chair of the SBL Metacriticizing of Biblical Scholarship Consultation for the Society of Biblical Literature and we have a session on Academic Freedom scheduled for the Baltimore Annual Meeting in November. We have three papers and a respondent lined up, with an extra 30 minutes of discussion time.

Calvin

Jeffrey Morrow (Seton Hall University) ”A Biblical Method to End Religious Conflict: The Socio-Political Context to Spinoza’s Battle for the Freedom to Philosophize as it Relates to Academic Freedom and Biblical Studies”

Robert R. Cargill (University of Iowa; Visit his Blog) ”Do Not Receive into the Bible College or Seminary Anyone Who Comes to You and Does Not Bring This Doctrine”: The Problem of Critical Scholars at Confessional Colleges

James F. McGrath, (Butler University; Visit his Blog) Mythicism and the Mainstream: The Rhetoric and Realities of Academic Freedom

Kent Harold Richards, StrategyPoints,  Respondent.

Yours truly will be presiding.

Anyway, its clear that the big flaps over how conservative Christian schools sometimes react to liberal religious or secular scholarship being done on their dime will occupy a lot of the discussion time and we are hoping that we get a good turnout.

My co-chair, Rebecca Raphael and I, hope we can make a session on various issues in academic freedom a frequent part of our offers at the annual meetings. There is a lot to talk about. There is also some preliminary talk of an edited volume.

If you are attending the Baltimore meetiing, I hope you can make it to our session.

research-in-progress

Here are the abstracts of the 3 papers:

James F. McGrath, Mythicism and the Mainstream: The Rhetoric and Realities of Academic Freedom

The rhetoric of concern for academic freedom becomes prominent at different times and in different situations – for instance, when a scholar at an Evangelical institution is fired for adopting a viewpoint that reflects the consensus of mainstream scholarship, but also when a proponent of a fringe view like Jesus mythicism has difficulty finding a publisher. This paper will explore the use and misuse of appeals to academic freedom, focusing particular attention on the phenomenon of Jesus mythicism, and the particular case of Thomas Brodie as described in his recent memoir, Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus. On the one hand, Brodie records resistance to his ideas in the academy (largely within the domain of Catholic institutions, but also more widely). On the other hand, it is possible that Brodie will face censure from Catholic authorities in response to the publication of his views. The case thus provides a good opportunity to look at the nature of academic freedom and its character, extent, and limits within the secular academy as well as religiously-affiliated institutions.

Jeffrey Morrow: A Biblical Method to End Religious Conflict: The Socio-Political Context to Spinoza’s Battle for the Freedom to Philosophize as it Relates to Academic Freedom and Biblical Studies

Spinoza articulated a set of guidelines to study the Bible historically in his Tractatus Theologico-politicus (1670), which many scholars have seen as a Magna Charta of historical biblical criticism. Spinoza states that his purpose in attempting to study the Bible historically is to bring an end to the theological and political tyranny which made it impossible to philosophize freely. One of the important historical backdrops to Spinoza’s work was the bloody Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648), the most violent of the so-called “Wars of Religion.” In his introduction, Spinoza explains how such allegedly religious conflict is at the root of his attempt to devise a fresh method for interpreting Scripture. Spinoza argues that if an objective method for studying the Bible can be found, then violence created by sectarian religious beliefs will be put to rest. Spinoza maintains that historical biblical criticism is thus necessary to bring peace to a still turbulent Europe which has been ravaged by horrific sectarian wars. This paper will explore the socio-political context to Spinoza’s biblical project to highlight the ambiguities that continue to plague such apologetic calls for academic freedom in the context of modern biblical studies. Such arguments for “freedom” have often meant freedom for some but a lack of freedom for others. Spinoza’s possible theological agenda notwithstanding, his blueprint for academic freedom and for biblical studies was part of an ongoing secularizing trend which took the academy by storm in the following (18th) century. That is, his method was part of a much broader movement to privatize theological and faith concerns. This secularizing movement had both philosophical and theological origins in the Muslim Averroism that spread throughout medieval European universities, and the Nominalism that made its way through the Protestant Reformation. Spinoza is an heir of this late medieval inheritance (as Jakob Freudenthal and Étienne Gilson demonstrated about a century ago in their important studies that have apparently been forgotten by contemporary scholars). Moreover, as Jonathan Israel has more recently shown, Spinoza’s thought played a central role in the Enlightenment debates which ensued long after his death and which secured biblical studies’ foothold in the modern university.

 

Robert R. Cargill “Do Not Receive into the Bible College or Seminary Anyone Who Comes to You and Does Not Bring This Doctrine”: The Problem of Critical Scholars at Confessional Colleges

This paper examines the increasingly problematic trend of the dismissal of critically trained scholars from typically small Christian Bible colleges and seminaries. Many confessional schools of late find themselves increasingly on the defensive when it comes to preserving their traditional doctrinal stances against advances in biblical scholarship, science, philosophy, archaeology, linguistics, and other disciplines within the liberal arts and sciences. As a result, many Bible colleges find themselves dismissing highly qualified Bible scholars, whose research may have led them over time to academic viewpoints that differ from the predetermined confessional statements of faith often mandated by their institutions as a condition of employment. These confessional schools often find themselves torn between a desire for the standard accreditation held by other credible universities, and the preservation of their characteristic doctrinal beliefs. This paper surveys several recent instances of these conflicts, identifies the main points of contention, examines missteps made by both institutions and scholars, and offers suggestions for scholars both seeking jobs and already employed at confessional schools, and for institutions seeking to preserve their denominational identity in the information age.

 

2 Responses to “Academic Freedom and Biblical Scholarship”

  1. McGrath’s Review of Brodie’s Memoir: Incompetent or Dishonest? | Vridar Says:

    [...] James McGrath back in February this year. It also recently came to my attention that McGrath is to present a paper on academic freedom and that he has chosen to use Brodie’s experiences as he describes them [...]

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