Secular Criticism of the Bible. SBL meeting report.

Thanks to Hector Avalos who chaired the initial meeting concerning secular biblical studies at the SBL meeting in New Orleans. He has just posted his official report and there are some very interesting developments. A draft went around last week, but some of these developments are now confirmed. Here is a cut and paste:


Dear colleagues,

What follows is a brief report of our meeting to explore the feasibility of establishing a group that would focus on non-religious approaches to biblical studies.

Time and Place: Saturday, November 21, 6:45pm-8:15pm in Conference Room Studio 6 of the Marriott Hotel in New Orleans, LA.

Attendance: Kenneth Atkinson, Hector Avalos (moderator of meeting), Zeba Crook, Stephanie Fisher, Jim Linville, John Loftus, Ken Pulliam, Frank Zindler.

The meeting began with introductions, and a description of the goals that such a group should have. Two basic positions were identified: (1) an activist position that would focus on direct challenges to religion and/or the Bible; (2) a non-activist position that would focus on scholarship from a non-religious approach. A compromise of sorts was reached by focusing on scholarship that could both challenge religionist biases and ideas in biblical studies in a scholarly and non-hostile manner, and also contribute original scholarship that would be distinctive of a non-religious approach.

The participants agreed to pursue a two-track approach to establishing the group. One track would focus on preparing the proposal necessary to establish a new unit within the SBL. By a vote of 8-0, the proposed name of the unit chosen was “Secular Criticism of the Bible” consultation/group. However, the establishment of a new unit in the SBL is a long process that might take 2-5 years before the first session would be scheduled in an Annual Meeting of the SBL.

Accordingly, second track was adopted that would work with an existing SBL unit, preferably the Ideological Criticism Section, and propose sessions on non-religious approaches to biblical studies. Such sessions could be scheduled as early as next year. These sessions also would help to draw people interested in working with the first track.

The final main item of discussion was a proposed session for next year within the Ideological Criticism Section. The group agreed to have a session, titled tentatively “Secular Biblical Criticism and Introductions to the Bible.” The session would examine and critique the current textbooks used in introductory courses to the Bible, and invite a respondent, preferably an author of one of those introductions. Participants agreed to work on ideas for individual papers that would then form a coherent set for a session. The session would also address the question of what a secular Introduction to the Bible would look like.

No decisions were made on a steering committee for our group, and who would be in it. I will check with the requirements of the SBL before further action on this.


On Monday, November 23, 2009, Hector Avalos attended the business meeting of the Ideological Criticism Section, which is co-chaired by Randy Reed. One result is that Avalos has been added to the steering committee of the Ideological Criticism Section. A second result is that a session of the Ideological Criticism Section for next year is scheduled to include one on our proposed topic mentioned above (“Secular Biblical Criticism and Introductions to the Bible” ). This will be an invited panel, and Randy Reed will soon be making the relevant announcement in the Call for Papers for next year’s Ideological Criticism Section meeting in Atlanta.


Papers for the invited session in the Ideological Criticism Section should probably be formulated within the next few weeks. We might envision one paper that would give a brief overview on Introductions to the Bible and/or 3-4 papers that would focus on individual themes in Introductions (e.g., historical, literary, theological biases, etc.). Respondents would be sought from authors of Introductions, and these might include Bart Ehrman, Michael Coogan, James Crossley, and Barry Bandstra.

All in all, I think we made some good progress, including a planned session for next year’s SBL meeting in Atlanta. Thanks again for your interest and support.


The Other War on Christmas: an academic perspective

No, this post isn’t about attempts to eliminate all references to religious ideas from public acknowledgement of the holidays. Its about something far more insidious than that. It is about being an academic at Christmas and all the university crap that needs to be done while family and friends with their own views on what needs to be done.

First of all, one must wrap up the fall semester. There are essays to grade, exams to make up, exams to grade, panicked students to counsel, paperwork to be shuffled and what not.  Then there is going through all the darn textbooks for next semester’s courses, planning the darn thing, making up the syllabus, changing it, changing it back, giving up and starting over. And then one must get some research done.

In addition to that, there are Christmas parties, Christmas shopping, Christmas travelling, and all the usual frustrations that brings. Of course, the big meal, the prezzies, the fun is, well, fun. And it is nice to see family and what not. But somewhere in all of this a hell of a lot of work has to get done and there isn’t a lot of time to get it done. The thing that gets me is that I’m usually pretty tired from the past semester and just need time to rest. If a lot of travelling is in the picture rest is something that is at a premium.

Compounding all of this is the totally aggravating schedule the U. of Lethbridge follows. We did not start our Fall semester until around the 9th of September! Don’t ask me why. They had New Student Orientation at the end of one week, and never started classes until the Wednesday or Thursday of the week following.  At the other end of the term, our last class is on Dec. 11 and the exam period goes to Dec. 21! The Admin offices will close at noon on the 24th, so that doesn’t give a lot of time to grade exams.

Fortunately for me, my two exams are on the 14th and 17th this year. The odd schedule does actually impact how some profs with a late exam actually assess their students. Fewer essay questions and more, easy to mark, multiple choice etc. Some classes scheduled for the last day have up to 65 students in them (and perhaps more, 65 is one that I know of). First day of classes in the New Year is January 6. Yeesh!

I know I’m not alone in thinking this way. For academics the Christmas “Holiday” is anything but.

Research in Religious Studies. The Conference to Begin All Conferences: Call for Papers

Finally, we have sorted out the Call for Papers for the conference that is the highlight of Dr. Jim’s academic year! Horray!


May 1-2 University of Lethbridge

Lethbridge AB 

I started the Research in Religious Studies Conference for R. S. Students at the U of L in 2003, and it has been a glorious success. Some years we can get as many as 40 papers presented by undergraduates and MA students from all across Western Canada, North West U.S.A. and beyond.We have had students from Vanderbilt Divinity School, University of Toronto and even further afield. It all takes place this time over the first Saturday and Sunday in May 2010.

It is an absolutely wonderful experience for the students and a wonder experience for me and my colleagues. Imagine ending the term listening to some of the best undergrad papers of the year presented with an often surprising level of professionalism. The students who come are usually the most engaged and interested, and it shows in their work. It is quite nice to see how good  student’s work can be one they take their professors’ comments to heart and rewrite their essays for presentation. It really builds their confidence, especially for the undergrads looking to start graduate study soon.

We will consider any paper from an undergraduate, Masters level or recent graduates that follows a secular academic approach towards understanding any aspect of any religious tradition, practice or belief. What kind of papers we actually get is determined to a large degree by which upper-level seminars are taught by professors willing to advertise the conference that year. We have had a lot of papers on modern Christianity, religion and the arts, Buddhism and many more that have been very hard to classify. I would like to see more on Islam, modern and medieval Judaism, and Hebrew Bible. Anyway, if anyone is interested or wants more information, just contact the organizing committee at

Accommodations are on campus, and two nights should be booked (last year I think it was about $45 per night). We try to keep the registration fee as low as possible and it includes a continental breakfast for the Saturday and Sunday and lunch Saturday. The last papers is usually around 11:30 or so on Sunday.

This year, our keynote speaker on the Saturday banquet will be Dr. Christine Mitchell of  St. Andrew’s College, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon SK.

Please feel free to post, repost, praise and advertise widely.

For a copy of the poster in PDF format, go here:

Call for Papers_2010

The conference website still needs some tweaking but it should be pretty much functional in a few days.

GO HERE for the submission forms, etc.

Here is some information on what the RRS meeting is all about:

How is conference organized?
The Research in Religious Studies Conference is modeled on those hosted by the premier professional learned societies in religious studies: the American Academy of Religion, Society of Biblical Literature, and Canadian Society for the Study of Religion, albeit with some important changes.
These conferences are typically organized into a set of “sessions” each featuring three or four presenters. Each presenter is given a specific amount of time to make her or his presentation and to allow for questions and discussions. Our conference follows the general tradition of 30 minutes per presentation, which means about 20 minutes for the actual paper and 10 for comments.
Sometimes, students suggest specific topics for a round table discussion, and we are always willing to hear ideas for those, too!
Each session has a presider, who introduces the speakers and oversees the discussion period. The presider is also the timekeeper, and may well cut a speaker off who goes over the time limit. The presider is also supposed to defuse any emotional showdowns, but having to do this is a very rare occurrence for us.
The sessions are organized on specific topics and 3 or 4 sessions may be going on at once. For most professional conferences, would-be presenters apply for the specific session, and only the 3 or 4 best ones are selected. This is not what we do, however. We referee the paper proposals first, and do the best we can to make relevant sessions out of the papers we have accepted. This means grouping the papers can be a very “creative” enterprise.

What are conference papers?
Academic conferences are not simply about sharing your views, but your hard work.
Conference papers present the results of formal research and generally have a lot of similarities to the kinds of papers you may have written for post-graduate or upper-level undergraduate courses. They differ in some ways as well, but if you’ve ever put together a good term paper, you are well on your way!
We do not expect you to write something new for our conference, but to rework a paper you have written or are writing for a class. In the very least, this involves getting the length right for the time allotted, and tweaking your wording so that the paper is easy to understand orally.

Why bother?
Many scholars use conference paper to “test-fly” the conclusions of their research and to open key elements of a larger project to public scrutiny so they can fix weaknesses in it before submitting their work for publication. The Research in Religious Studies Conference seems to work the other way around, with the conference presentation generally coming after the “real” test of submitting a paper to a professor for a grade. Looks are deceiving, however. Academic work is a process. There is a lot to learn by rewriting a good paper in view of professor’s comments to see just how good it can be. And who knows, you may still get the conference paper published!

What is the conference atmosphere like?
This can vary widely, but it is rather different from that of a class or seminar. On the one hand, our meeting has a certain formality to its organization and scheduling, and so you do not have the intimacy of a familiar class environment. On the other hand, on inter-personal levels, it is very laidback and mutually supportive.
In all likelihood you have never seen many of the folks in the audience before and have not had most of a semester to become familiar with your professor’s expectations. In a conference, it is between you and your peers. Although you are the expert in your particular topic, you are not there simply to teach but to convince others that what you have learned is academically credible while learning from your well-educated audience.
Still, there is ample opportunity for meeting people, making friends and so forth, so don’t be on edge the whole time. Remember, most of the people coming are doing a paper themselves, so they are just as self-conscious as you!

How do I suggest a paper?
Go to the conference website and follow the links there to submit the title and an abstract (short summary) of what your paper is about on the online form. You do NOT have to submit the whole paper!

How will my proposed paper be evaluated?
All of the paper proposals are evaluated for how well they convince the reader of the following:
1) The topic concerns something of interest concerning the academic study of religion, widely conceived. Papers from a wide array of academic disciplines are welcome, but the conference is not a suitable venue for papers expounding confessional or faith perspectives.
2) The author appears familiar with the most important scholarship regarding the subject area.
3) The paper appears to be based on solid and thorough research and follows an academically sound method of approaching its subject.
4) The abstract shows that the author can communicate ideas well.
We will take into account the level of the student proposing a paper. Many students will find we accept the proposal as submitted. Some, however, may be asked to rework the proposal in light of concerns we may have over clarity, approach, etc. typos and the like. Please note: not all papers will be accepted!

Sadly, we do not have the resources to provide financial assistance for travel or accommodations.

HERE for the submission forms, etc.

Dr. Jim’s Thinking Shop: Deluxe Windbaggery Our Speciality!

Got a comment a couple days ago from a certain Mr/Mrs/Ms. “Anonymous” to a post I made on April 19 telling me I’m a windbag. Good to see Anon. is a regular reader!

It was actually a damn good little post. Too bad it took 8 months for anyone to actually read it!  Basically the post was about a lengthy exchange I was having with some  Christians in the local newspaper. At one point I was called a “militant” atheist. So my post was reporting on my just-published reply. Here is that with one of theattention grabbing, crusading pictures I found so I can wallow in my militant glory.

Andrew Joosse calls me “militant” for criticizing religion. Militant people carry guns and throw bombs. I wrote to my local newspaper. Luckily, I didn’t use upper-case letters for emphasis or Lethbridge might get a reputation as a terrorist haven.


A gun shop, perhaps the one from where the noted militant, Dr. Jim,
bought his deadly lap-top that has been striking common sense into the
sleepy town of Lethbridge .

My views are said to confirm Augustine’s claim that Christians do not base belief on reason but rather believe in order to understand. OK, so Augustine was happy with a circular argument and a bit of special pleading that seemingly protects his views from criticism and self-doubt. I’m glad Mr. Joosse and I had the opportunity to clear that up.

I do not question many Christians’ charitable nature or work for world peace but the same can be said of Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Wiccans, agnostics, and atheists. My real point is that religions get undeserved preferential treatment. For example, organized religions enjoy special laws allowing them to issue tax receipts for donations, regardless of whether the money is put to any real humanitarian end. This is unfairly denied to other groups.

To illustrate the Christian sense of “true religion”, Mr. Joosse employs a verse from the biblical prophet Micah that advocates doing justice and humbly walking with one’s god. We get a different perspective on it if we flip ahead several pages in the Bible to the prophet Malachi, who accuses poverty stricken Judeans of stealing from God by skimping on their tithes, offerings and sacrifices to the temple.  Some biblical passages are simply timeless.

After this, I tore into another letter (by Brock Schuler) to the same editor that cried a few crocodile tears for the atheists who don’t know what they are missing and declaring that religion is inherently valuable. Oh yeah, he added that atheists are just bitter.

I find it unfortunate when people refer to faith in derogatory ways when it has so much to offer. Faith provides foundations for morals and gives hope.

…I feel sorry for the naturalist / secularlist / scientist that has nothing to believe in. I find belief in God essential for my personal and spiritual development, even my intellectual development.

So I challenged him on a few points. Anyway, here is what Mr/Mrs/Ms. “Anonymous” has to say 8 months later in the comments:

You are a windbag. You’re an arrogant fool who likes attention and the idea that he is somehow a crusader for truth and liberty. I’m not a christian and to me you look ridiculous. Stop embarassing yourself.

Stolen from

Well, I suppose one way to not embarrass myself is to post insults anonymously, but what would that achieve? Of course, Anon is keeping his/her name out of circulation simply out of modesty. We must not assume that this is just a surf-by insult. No, Anon is too dignified to stoop to that.

OK, so some uber-modest self-professed non-Christian jackass (I’ll bet he is a Christian, though, and is lying through his freakin’ teeth) thinks I’m embarrassing myself by stating my opinion. Well la-de-da.  Why the fuck is it any concern or hers? At least in my original post I was attacking ideas, not just hurling insults. If our nameless dipwit can’t see the point of satire on the internet perhaps there is a rock he can find that needs crawling under.

And now, back to regular programming, militant crusading.

The Lolcat Temptation of Christ

Basement Cat tempts Jesus
moar funny pictures

Couldn’t resist…

Technorati Tags: , , , , , ,

Michael Shermer to visit Lethbridge (very advance warning).

I got an email the other day from Paul Sparrow-Clarke who works in the mysterious reaches of the “7th floor” at the U. of L. (where the president’s offices are), letting me know that they have booked the speaker for the fall 2010 Owen G. Holmes  lecture.

Mark Sept. 23 on your calendar!

Michael Shermer

Author of “Why People Believe Weird Things”.

Shermer is the  e Executive Director of the Skeptics Society, a monthly columnist for Scientific American.

Here is a cut and paste blurb about his books from his blog,

Dr. Shermer’s latest book is The Mind of the Market, on evolutionary economics. His last book was Why Darwin Matters: Evolution and the Case Against Intelligent Design, and he is the author of Science Friction: Where the Known Meets the Unknown, about how the mind works and how thinking goes wrong. His book The Science of Good and Evil: Why People Cheat, Gossip, Share Care, and Follow the Golden Rule, is on the evolutionary origins of morality and how to be good without God. He wrote a biography, In Darwin’s Shadow, about the life and science of the co-discoverer of natural selection, Alfred Russel Wallace. He also wrote The Borderlands of Science, about the fuzzy land between science and pseudoscience, and Denying History, on Holocaust denial and other forms of pseudohistory. His book How We Believe: Science, Skepticism, and the Search for God, presents his theory on the origins of religion and why people believe in God. He is also the author of Why People Believe Weird Things on pseudoscience, superstitions, and other confusions of our time.

Whoot! When’s it gonna be September?

Here he is at a TED lecture. Its about 14 minutes long, but then, we’ve got time, haven’t we?

Anyway, in the video, Shermer mentions Katie Melua, so here is the video of the tune he mentions.


Technorati Tags: , , , , ,

Stephanie’s Very Posh Cat

I don’t really have a  lot to blog about at the moment (well, I do, I just don’t have the energy), but I got sick of looking at the horrible nazi jerk’s picture in the last post so here is something even Jim West should agree is altogether better looking.

Yes, I  do keep my Moet & Chandon in my  pretty cabinet
moar funny pictures

This is Delilah, Stephanie Louise Fisher’s little friend.

And with that in mind, lets have some music!

Aryan Guard on the run. Where’s your master race now, you pathetic scrotum-pimples?

The Calgary Herald is reporting that the Calgary based neo-nazi outfit the “Aryan Guard” has disbanded, at least according to its website.

The AG first got in the news  in 2006 and distributed a bunch of propaganda in Calgary and Lethbridge. Alas, all has not been coming up roses for the arch defenders of black-hearted whiteness. It seems they didn’t get along with each other, and someone tried to blow one of them up on Saturday. One 17 year old is already under arrest (found in Manitoba) and charged with attempted murder and the founder of the super-flounder,  Kyle Robert McKee, 24, is on the run from similar charges.


Ubersturmfuckwit McKee. Photo lifted from the Calgary Herald.


From the Herald story:

McKee is also a frequent poster on white pride online forums, most recently praising the spray painting on the Calgary Jewish Centre and Holocaust memorial as funny.

He has been photographed with Nazi flags, white pride logos and with his right arm raised in salute.

More on the bombing here (also Calgary Herald). The guy who found the bombs picked them up and threw them away. They exploded. Surprise!

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , ,


I’m Home from New Orleans. Not forgiven, but I’m home.

I made it back from New Orleans with all my luggage, loot and plunder intact (if not my nerves).

It all started very early. I left for the N. O. airport around 6:00 this morning and got in my door around 8 this evening (9:00 N. O. time). The first leg of the trip, to Denver, was fine, but I had a 4 hour wait there. Then the damn airplane (“Untied Airlines”) broke, but we know the REAL reason:

Had to wait an extra hour and half, or so, which really cut into the time I had in Calgary to get through customs and get onto the flight to Lethbridge. As it worked out, I didn’t have any time to eat in Calgary, but I did make my plane back home. Of course, the Denver-Calgary flight passed right over Lethbridge, and I could make out my street. That was just about the time I was really worrying about missing my connecting flight. So near and yet so far!

Tom and Sharon Robinson met me at the airport and drove me home. And what did I find when I stepped in the door? Three cats happy as can be to see me?

Gone. FIVE freakin' days. I hope you have a REALLY good excuse, Mr.
moar funny pictures

Oh, its you. Bring me anything?
moar funny pictures

Well, the house is still standing, but the little beggars knocked over their giant can of Kittie Treats, spilling a gallon of dry cat food on the floor (according to Sharon, this was nearly a daily occurrence). They also tipped over my document shredder. I must remember to empty its basket after every use. Shredded paper all over my office.

My hoomin goez to Nawlinz an' awl Ai getz iz dis stoopit hat.
moar funny pictures

Other that that, all is will. I had a great time at the conference. Met some good people like Roland Boer and Jim West, drank my fair share of Abita, at a lot of nice fish in a lot of nice restaurants, heard some good jazz, and found a great record store that now has a lot of my money. And I got myself on the steering committee of the Isrealite Prophetic Literature section.

As Hector Avalos predicted, there were a number of different perspectives at the secular biblical scholarship meeting, but I think a productive way forward can be found. I also met a lot of people who were interested but couldn’t make the meeting. Thanks to Hector for chairing it.

Looking forward to Atlanta!

More later.

Jim West Spotted Busking in New Orleans, and all that “jazz”.

Yes! The intrepid curmudgeon has been spotted in disguise on the streets of New Orleans, busking away, trying to be cool. He’s doin’ it wrong.

Here is a tip, J.W, its “Jazz” music, not “Jewish music” that New Orleans is famous for.

Oh yeah, and don’t quit your day job.

And here’s a kitteh to show you how its done!

Page 36 of 51< First10203334353637383950Last >