Thursday, April 29, 2010

Thinking more about Traditions and traditions

When I think about my scholarship and my teaching, I am realizing that I am a tradition-critic in every sense of the word. Yes I am fascinated at tracking and explaining the emergence and transmission of traditions, but I am also involved in understanding the development of The Christian Tradition, as it is reflected and safeguarded by the normative churches. So I am involved in both aspects of the study of (T)(t)radition.

This has led me to reflect upon another aspect of what my scholarship is about. Being in two religious studies departments over the last fifteen years, rather than theology or biblical departments, has made a difference for me. It has allowed me to grow in my critical examination and evaluation of The Tradition, rather than become immersed in a type of scholarship whose purpose (whether intentional or not) is to shore up and support The Tradition, to use biblical approaches to legitimate again the old normative story.

The more I reflect upon this, the more I realize that this is at the heart of the problem I see in biblical scholarship - whether or not we are willing to question The Tradition and its power of normation, whether we are willing or not to work the materials from the 'other' side, to see what is there and how what is there bears on the normative narrative and exegetical tradition that is centuries old.

My work is more than the retrieval of the 'other' side. It is an attempt to integrate the 'other' side into the story before and as the process of normation was underway. To do so means to cut into the story that The Tradition created, to see how it was put together in the fashion it was, and why. It has never been my experience that The Tradition is left intact. Yet, I have never felt that we are left with nothing. There is a new wholeness that emerges, although one that The Tradition may not (want) to recognize.

Monday, April 26, 2010

John Kutsko is appointed the Executive Director of SBL

This just came through to me via SBL, and I have to say that I am thrilled! John Kutsko and I trained at the University of Michigan together in the 1980s, before Peter Machinist took a position at Harvard. He is a person of scholarly integrity and collegiality, and I look forward to his leadership in our society. Congratulations John!

Kutsko to Become SBL Executive Director on 1 July 2010

Bruce Birch, chair of the SBL Council, has announced that John F. Kutsko has been named the new Executive Director of the Society of Biblical Literature, effective 1 July 2010. After an extensive international search chaired by Fernando Segovia, Birch reported that the search committee’s unanimous and enthusiastic support of Kutsko was affirmed by Council at its April meeting. Birch said, “Strong and insightful leadership has always been a quality valued by SBL whether in our publications, congresses, or programs for professional development. We are looking forward to Kutsko’s leadership of an organization committed to core values of ‘responsiveness to change, scholarly integrity, inclusiveness, collegiality, collaboration, and accountability.’”

Kutsko began his graduate work in Hebrew Bible and the Ancient Near East at the University of Michigan and completed his Ph.D. at Harvard University in 1997 under the mentorship of Peter Machinist. His revised dissertation was published as Between Heaven and Earth: Divine Presence and Absence in the Book of Ezekiel. He has been active in the SBL publishing program (contributing editor of The SBL Handbook of Style) and the Symposium series, as well as the Career Center Advisory Group, the SBL Forum, and the Ezekiel Seminar. And he has been a faculty mentor for fellows at The Fund for Theological Education, where he has taught a dissertation-writing and publishing workshop for over a decade.

In addition to his academic contributions, John has over twenty years of publishing, leadership, and executive experience. He has worked on projects such as the The Anchor Bible Dictionary (Doubleday) and Civilizations of the Ancient Near East (Scribner’s Sons), and he was Associate Editorial Director at Hendrickson Publishers until 2003.

“I am thrilled to serve the members and mission of SBL. I join a gifted and dedicated staff. I look forward to collaborating with and giving leadership to a scholarly community in ways that enhance and further its teaching and research. I am grateful to follow the remarkable accomplishments of Kent Richards, who is very much the founder of the modern SBL. Kent has digitized, internationalized, and broadened SBL. I’ll bring all my energy to expanding these accomplishments and fostering the future of biblical scholarship.”

He joins SBL from Abingdon Press, the main imprint of The United Methodist Publishing House, where he served as Associate Publisher and began as Director of Academic and Professional Resources in 2003. At Abingdon he directed such projects as The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible and The Wesley Study Bible, and led a digital publishing initiative.

“I believe that the skills and experience I have from my rather non-traditional academic c.v. will help guide SBL’s members through the challenges and opportunities the discipline faces in the scholarly academy and higher education today. I am grateful to SBL for allowing the second half of my career to integrate this level of professional experience.”

Friday, April 23, 2010


Today is the last day of classes at Rice. Will be ending my Introduction to New Testament Studies talking about androcentricism. Consider for a moment how male-centrism may have affected the memory of the early Christian traditions and their transmission. Leave me one idea in the comments (please limit to serious comments on the stated subject). Let's collect as many consequences as we can muster.

I'll start: women and their participation are marginalized and forgotten, like the woman in Mark who anointed Jesus' head...whose name the traditions no longer remembers.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Thinking about Tradition v. tradition

Professor Kocku von Stuckrad from the University of Groningen in The Netherlands has been stranded in Houston due to the eruption of the volcano and the cancellation of his flight home after the Hidden God conference. So today he joined my seminar and discussed the methodology which he has been developing to analyze the history of Western Esotericism and published a few weeks ago in his new book Locations of Knowledge in Medieval and Early Modern Europe.

It was a pleasure to hear him discuss how he approaches the problem of pluralism in the ancient world and his constructive views. What struck me about our conversation was the difference in our usage of words. I don't know if this is because he was trained in Europe and I in the States, but it has caused me to pause again and consider again that even though we may be using the same words in our analyses, we do not necessarily mean the same thing.

Part of our discussion centered on the word 'tradition' which von Stuckrad has set aside in favor of another concept, 'discursive field'. He does so because 'tradition' means for him 'the' centrist religions and is not able to handle the material 'outside' 'the' tradition except on 'the' tradition's own terms. Discursive field, however, allows him to talk about any field of knowledge (like 'journeys to heaven') without being bound to 'the' tradition's perspective of it.

I identify as a tradition-critic. But my understanding and use of the word 'tradition' is not the same as von Stuckrad's. I don't use it to mean 'the' tradition or the Tradition, as a referent to the centrist religion and its normation. I use it in the sense of 'tradition' with a little 't': as those ideological holdings and practices belonging to a group and transmitted by them over time. I think that I am using the term 'tradition' in the same way that von Stuckrad is using 'discursive field'.

So this afternoon was enlightening for me, reminding me how careful I need to be to define the terms I am using in my academic writing, and never to assume that my colleagues, especially across the Atlantic, are using them in the same manner.

Monday, April 19, 2010

What a successful conference!

What an awesome conference!

I want to thank all who participated or attended for making it a truly successful event. I learned an enormous amount from my colleagues and from the students who all gave papers.

Here is our company in front of the reflecting pool at the Rothko Chapel.

From left to right: back row: Enoch Olujide Gbadegesin; Kocku von Stuckrad; Andrei Orlov; Jeff Kripal; John Turner; Claire Fanger; Grant Adamson; Bill Parsons; Justin. Front row: Stephen Finley; April DeConick; Marcia Brennan; Bernard McGinn; Chad Pevateaux; Shira Lander. Not present for photo: Ata Anzali; Dustin Atlas; Benjamin Brochstein; Kelley Coblentz Bautch; David Cook; Jonathan Garb; Margarita Simon Guillory; Greg Kaplan; Anne Carolyn Klein; David Porreca; John Stroup; Franklin Trammell; Claire Villarreal; Betul Yavuz.

Edited volume: Histories of the Hidden come.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Hidden God, Hidden Histories Schedule

Today is the day! This afternoon at 3:15 the Hidden God, Hidden Histories Rockwell Symposium convenes.

HERE is a link to the poster and the detailed schedule. Scroll down the page and the first hyperlink will bring up our beautiful poster. The second hyperlink will bring up the detailed schedule.

There is no registration fee. The conference is open to the public. Please join us for any or all of the sessions if you are in the area and looking for something to do.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Praying in Her Own Voice

Two showings of the documentary film by Yael Katzir in Houston! This is not one to miss.

Praying in Her Own Voice
The Struggle of Women of the Wall for Freedom of Worship in Israel



Monday, April 12th, 7:30 pm, Rice University Cinema, 6100 Main Street, Houston FREE
Thursday, April 18th, 7 pm, Temple Sinai, 13875 Brimhurst Drive, Houston

Producer Ravit Markus will attend both screenings and be available for Q&A after the screening.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Apocryphote of the Day: Meditation on Easter

"He dwells either in this world or in the resurrection or in the middle place. God forbid that I be found there! In this world there is good and evil. Its good things are not good, and its evil things not evil. But there is evil after this world which is truly evil, what is called 'the middle'. It is death. While we are in this world it is fitting for us to acquire the resurrection, so that when we strip off the flesh we may be found in rest and not walk in the middle. For many go astray on the way. For it is good to come forth from the world before one has sinned."

Gos. Phil. 66.8-24 (sec. century Valentinian text)