A Brief Apologia for Going to Teach in the Religious Education Department at BYU

A commenter on another post said “To think that a couple years ago I envisioned myself wanting to work in the BYU Religious Department. For some reason however, I see myself more and more hoping to never do so. Hopefully smb is right and this will pass with the next generation.” I’m not picking on him, it’s a common enough sentiment, but he reminded me of this.

BYU Religion hires from two tracks- CES and the academic track, ie. people who get PhD’s in Bible and Religion and so on. Most of the academics I know, myself included, have some… issues with the Religious Education department at BYU. Many of those in the academic track have, at some time in the past, wanted to work at BYU, but for whatever reasons, have now essentially said “I really hope I have some other options than BYU.”

But now hear the parable of the non-standard magazine and the GA statement. A certain GA spoke about how unorthodox the non-standard magazine was, and forbade orthodox-ers from contributing to it. And lo, how unorthodox it became because there was no one to provide balance!

If all the academics refuse to go to the Religious Education department, who will they hire? CES people excitedly queuing up to get in, that’s who. And there will be no next generation that refuses to pass on the racial “folklore” of the past, because they’ll all be CES folks with degrees in Education, Counseling, and Psychology. Administration in the department has flatly told me in the past that people from the CES track have excellent teaching skills, but they don’t do very good research nor know as much as those from the academic track. (Those in the academic track, meanwhile, are advised to get some teaching experience.)

I’ve known some very good CES people whom I respect, but even so, they are simply not trained to teach students how to understand the Bible on its own terms, in its own context, or to deal with its complexities and difficulties. Often they lack broad perspective and are quite insular.

I think we need to maintain a balance in the department, at very least so students can choose what kind of course they want. Most importantly, it is useful from time to time for academics-in-training like me to be reminded by a good CES-type teacher that scripture reduced to Historical Context and Critical Theory frequently lacks transformative power one’s life.

So consider, dear reader, what will happen, if none but CES want to go into the Religious Education department. Consider how the department’s reputation will cling to BYU students trying to get into graduate religious studies. Consider the effect on students struggling with budding awareness of the messiness of scripture. Consider the effect on future “scholarly” scriptural publications from BYU, which for all intents and purposes, set the tone for many North American LDS’ perceptions of doctrine and scripture. Consider.

  • Mark IV

    Good points, Nitsav. I’m glad that there are people like you around. And BYU RelEd does have some excellent teachers, I agree. One of my regrets from my BYU experience was that I just signed up for religion classes based on convenience instead of choosing the really good classes and teachers.

    I think we need to maintain a balance in the department

    I don’t think there is a balance now, so there is no point in trying to maintain the status quo. I’m interested in trying to achieve a balance.

  • http://www.feastuponthewordblog.org BrianJ

    Only one of my religion instructors at BYU was “scholarly.” I hated his class. I hated how he showed that the scriptures said things that contradicted what I thought and what I had been taught. And I hated being forced to write a paper on a “non-standard” topic.

    Of course, now that I’ve grown to appreciate the scriptures (i.e., actually believe them), I find myself continually returning to what that professor taught. In fact, I think that his is the only religion class at BYU from which I can remember anything.

    (Any chance that BYU could hire the entire cast of FPR as a package deal?)

  • Julie M. Smith

    Amen.

    (irrelevant sidenote: your link on messy revelation was written by Susan Wise Bauer, author of my favorite homeschooling books)

  • http://www.libertypages.com/clark Clark

    Good post.

    Brian, that’s interesting. My more “scholarly” religion classes (none taught by people in the religion department) were great. I remain convinced that if you take honors religion classes you’ll have a great time. If you take the “CES track” classes you’ll get warmed over seminary classes.

    (Maybe that’s changed the past years, but I’d be surprised)

  • I eat boogers

    I think that three things are developing or have been developing at BYU and in the church such that the Religious Education department at BYU will become more and more irrelevant.

    1) BYU is beefing up their ANES department/courses. This will give an outlet for those who want a more academic approach to the Bible and the ANE. In all honesty an ANE department at BYU will be much more comfortable interfacing with other faiths than the BYU religious education department ever has or will have.

    2) Since 1995 the focus on the family has been way more pronounced in the church. Keeping families together and healthy seems to be job #1 in the church these days. In all honesty the Family Studies and Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) departments at BYU are much more qualified to tackle this issue than is the religious education department. This has lead/is leading the MFT/Family Studies people to become an ad hoc department of practical religious education since family has become synonymous with the church in recent years. This is why since the mid 1990′s you are much more likely to see an article in the ensign from the BYU MFT or Family Studies departments than from the religious education department.

    3) I don’t really know how to put this because I am sure that someone will take it the wrong way, but I’ll try anyway. Basically, there are very few McConkie Mormons around and no one really wants to become one. Perhaps this is because of a de-emphasis on knowing doctrine in favor of practical results (see #2). Perhaps this is because some traditional doctrines, such as “Lamanites are American Indians” are under attack from DNA research (no I don’t want to bring up a debate about Limited Geography, I know the issues, I am just giving an example). I don’t know why, and I have no hard evidence, but there seems to be much less of an emphasis on being a McConkie style scriptorian than there has been in the past. Those are the types of people that BYU Religious Education as sought out in the past.

    My point is that when you put the above together you end up with not much for the Religious Education department to do. I guess they can still teach the D&C. Even then, I don’t see the people there openly embracing things like Rough Stone Rolling. My guess is that they will resist that tooth and nail, thereby making them irrelevant for teaching Church History. This will end up making the Religious Education department even more of a “2nd tier department” and the classes there will become more like silly seminary classes than they already are (I took 7 of them, all of them uniformly awful. O.K. the genealogy class was o.k., but the lady who taught it had zilch to do with the Religious Education department)

  • I eat boogers

    Sorry, I may have been misinformed about the ANES department being beefed up. If so, 1/3 of my argument just fell by the wayside. Even so, I think that the remaining 2/3 still lead to the same conclusion, just not as conclusively.

  • http://juvenileinstructor.org Christopher

    Interesting thoughts and a relevant post. The problem is that it appears that for the time being and the near future, the department only has interest in CES-style faculty. The last 3 or 4 hirings have all gone that way, even though viable candidates with PhD’s in history or religious studies applied.

    Furthermore, the deans and department chairs of the Ancient Scripture and Church History and Doctrine departments seem to consistently be not only CES-trained, but also quite anti-intellectual in many regards (not to mention apparently being more concerned with dress and grooming standards than with scholarly standards of faculty members).

    Lastly, the outrageous teaching load thrown at Rel Ed faculty makes scholarly research a slow and difficult process. So while I agree that it would be wonderful if bright, young scholars with PhDs would aplly for and get hired in BYU’s Rel Ed department, you can hardly blame them for not wanting to. Not only do they not want to, but it appears the department might not want them.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com TT

    Great post! I think that it raises implicitly the question that some of my friends who are in this situation of making the choice face, which is whether they can do more good for the church inside our outside of BYU. This is by no means the only consideration, but I dare say that it is one. I think that the perception seems to be that Rel Ed is essentially the end of one’s scholarly career, both because of the demands of the curriculum, as well as the teaching load. Further, there are very few examples of those who do have training in relevant fields who seem to be actively engaged in those fields.
    To put Nitsav’s point another way, can contributing to research and publication as a LDS in a non-BYU environment actually be better overall for the church and its membership?

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com TT

    “scripture reduced to Historical Context and Critical Theory frequently lacks transformative power one’s life.”

    Good point, but for me this begs the question: If scripture can only be “transformative” inasmuch as it is approached uncritically and ahistorically, then should it be transformative?

  • http://juvenileinstructor.org Ben

    As the one who made the original comment that launched this post, I guess I should say a word. I agree with everything Christopher said: while it is designed for both types of professors to thrive, the department has really made it much more difficult for those with academic hopes. Let’s hope that changes in the future.

    I do agree with your main point: that there needs to be balance. I guess I am just not one willing to help under the current conditions. But more power to you for your desires.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com John C.

    Christopher,
    that isn’t entirely accurate. I know of an Egyptologist who was hired a couple of years ago, a religious historian hired at the same time, and a graduate of Chicago’s NES program who was hired this year.

  • http://ldskaitabiblia.wordpress.com/about/ The Yellow Dart

    #11: “…and a graduate of Chicago’s NES program who was hired this year.”

    Who was that by the way, and what is their specific field of study if you don’t mind me asking?

  • http://jettboy.blogspot.com Jettboy

    I have to agree. The religion department of both BYU, and by extention BYU-I, were for me boring and non-productive. Those classes I remember best were taught by non-religion faculty who brought in other subjects related to the class topics. The most memorable “religion lessons” I had weren’t even in religion classes. The one I remember most was a discussion of evolution in a biology class at the former Ricks College. I admit it did skirt the edges of religious and academic propriety. The English department had a Bible as Literature that helped me understand the text by looking at genre. Otherwise, religious topics came up in all my classes (perhaps excluding math) by the very fact of a religious school.

    Considering what has been said, it is interesting that for me the best and most memorable religion department class was taught by Bruce R. McConkie’s son. Even as an orthodox conservative Mormon such as myself his comments sometimes seemed inappropriate. However, that made it that much more memorable because you knew he was genuine. He had studied on his own (or at least rigorously) and was more than the sum of CES.

    I know that most of the criticism comes from those who are more academic leaning. However, you don’t have to be head first in Textualism, Languistics, Historicism, and other non-standard topics to be less than enthusiastic about the religion department. It has always been, I believe, stifling for those who already have a basic grasp of the gospel and scriptures. That things sound like they are getting worse is sad.

    Yet, I knew a lot of students who loved it that way. Perhaps even more than who wanted a more in-depth religious education. They already had tons of homework on their shoulders. To think and do homework in a religion class was a horrible imposition. Some dropped out (although some searched them out) when a teacher or class actually taught something new or assigned homework that took more than fill in the blank. The point is that the students might be a contributing factor to the way things have become.

  • http://jettboy.blogspot.com Jettboy

    John C., that is nice to hear. Who are they, and more importantly, have they written or published anything I can read? New “blood” is always nice to learn from.

  • Mogget

    scripture reduced to Historical Context and Critical Theory frequently lacks transformative power

    I have to nuance this one a bit, because Nitsav is a very good teacher; I think he is too hard on himself.

    If the appplication of context and critical theory reduce the scriptures, I think we might have to take look at the teacher. I resist the idea that we must make a choice between serious approaches to scripture and their transformative power.

  • holdinator

    To answer TYD’s question, though I may be wrong, I think it was Daniel Belnap. Incidentally, it was in a Book of Mormon class taught by Dr. Belnap at BYU Summer term 2002 (when he was in the middle of his PhD course work) that first interested me in the ANE. I think his dissertation had to do with the ritual use of liquids in Biblical and Ugaritic literature (or something).

    His classes, of which I took three, had a good balance of critical approach and practical application.

    Correct me if I’m wrong.

  • Mogget

    And another thought:

    Administration in the department has flatly told me in the past that people from the CES track have excellent teaching skills,

    If the CES folks have better pedagogical skills, why are so many people on this thread reporting that their RelEd classes were less than stellar? Maybe…just maybe…there’s a bit of confusion between student entertainment and student learning?

  • smallaxe

    I started composing this last night and left it on my computer without submiting it so it overlaps with some of the comments already made, but I think it also raises some new issues.

    I think we all agree that some changes need to be made, the question is both one of ‘how’ and ‘who’ (among other things).

    It seems that some approach it from the internal angle. In other words what we need are more profs trained in academic disciplines related to religion to become part of the department. I agree. I’m not sure who those people should be though. I’m not talking about identifying these individuals by name, but I’m wondering what kind of people they need to be. It seems that they would have to be willing and able to tackle the challenges there. As far as being ‘able’ is concerned, IMO these people must find ways to gain respect of other faculty members (and deal with their perceptions of orthodoxy), maintain academic rigor in scholarship, particpate in a field that extends beyond BYU and Mormondom, develop mad teaching skills, find the stamina to both publish and teach so many students, impliment change in a sensitive manner, etc.

    Personally I’m not sure how many people have the ability to do these things; and among the people that can, I’m not sure how many are willing.

    In this scenario it almost seems more practical to take an external route to changing the situation–establish one’s self in the field of religious studies (broadly conceived) outside of BYU, and as BYU sees how most LDS scholars of religion are not at BYU they will begin to rethink their approach.

    Now I realize that this external route is much less direct and contingent on things beyond one’s control, but given the skill set someone would need to be successful at the Rel Ed dept, and the fulfillment one can find in being successfuly outside of BYU, perhaps it isn’t such a bad route.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com Nitsav

    Mark IV: “I don’t think there is a balance now, so there is no point in trying to maintain the status quo.” There’s more of a balance now than there has been in the past, or at least, that’s my impression. Some younger faculty (see Jesus Christ and the World of the New Testament) are doing great things.

    BrianJ: As long as student ratings play a major role in who gets hired and tenured, teachers will have to either pander somewhat OR do some serious weeding out on the first day of students who aren’t interesting in that kind of course.

    Um, boogers: There’s the “new” ANES program, which seems to be a great improvement over the old one. Some of the faculty are really quite good. I doubt the MFHD department can teach a better Bible class. Also, my impression is that CES folks are still heavily influenced by McConkie/JFS-style dogmatism, even if they limit it to a more narrow scope than they did.

    Christopher: The departmental politics (from what I hear) and approach to academics is mixed in the last few years. It’s true that it’s mostly CES running the show there, but there have also been some positive things as well.

    TT: Good question. I think more good could be accomplished teaching somewhere else, provided that a)the LDS PhD contributed to traditional LDS venues that trickle down to the American LDS audience (ie. Ensign, FARMs, BYU Studies, Sperry Symposa publications, BYU publications, etc.) and b) BYU isn’t abandoned to CES.

    “If scripture can only be “transformative” inasmuch as it is approached uncritically and ahistorically, then should it be transformative?” I’m double-minded about this. First is a question of limited class time. I can only choose so many things to talk about, and to the extent that I’m focusedand taking time on an authorship question or something similar, I’m not focused on doctrine/application/inspirational part. Secondly, I find that my academic training makes has made it more difficult for me to see “inspirational” aspects of them. (CES unencumbered by such training have a much easier time.) Often what I do find inspiring and transformative is completely lost on my students. The two categories aren’t mutually exclusive and it’s not a great dichotomy, but as an academic teacher, I find it very easy to unconsciously prioritize in such a way that less-academic topics or approaches are an afterthought.

    John C: Did the Chicago guy get hired? He’s disappeared from the faculty listings.

    Yellow Dart: He did NW Semitics, but was big into mythology and religion, as I recall. Dissertation on the symbolism of liquids in feasts in Ugaritic and Hebrew literature or some such.

    Jettboy: It’s nice to hear some positive comments about certain people. I never interacted with him myself, but that’s partially because I’d heard negative things about his courses.

    All: thanks for the comments :)

  • TrevorM

    I really want to be positive about BYU. Badly

    The school has been good to me, I have found it to be a more tolerant atmosphere than people usually give it credit. I have found it to be a truly friendly caring place.

    I have found that my religion course on the Pearl of Great Price was lame. Very Lame, one BOM course was ok, the other was terrible. The fact is, my POGP class didn’t discuss the challenges to the text of Abraham nor did it discuss the scholarly rejoinders to such criticisms. It gave a glossy decidedly non-substantive view of church history and left me fully unsatisfied. We need to find a way to communicate to the department that things need to be better.

    I agree that the age of McConkie-informed doctrinal viewpoints is fading but if we replace it with warm and fuzzy seminary that never addresses Grim religious realities then we have an entirely new demon on our hands, one that will not be easily vanquished. I would hope that some of our bright believing scholars would be willing to “take one for the team” to help inform at least a part of the rising generation to things like these. I also want to believe that the anti-intellectual opinions that are found among us are fading away, even as Elder Holland quotes from non-LDS Bible scholars in conference.

    TT, I don’t think Nitsav’s point is that scriptural teaching should divorced from critical teaching and historical approaches if it is to have the power to change lives, it is that religious study driven by pure scholarship is generally un-transformative. Some historical context and some critical approach is important, but to be transformative it needs to deal human life and human problems on real, modern level as well.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com Nitsav

    Moggs: “If the appplication of context and critical theory reduce the scriptures, I think we might have to take look at the teacher. I resist the idea that we must make a choice between serious approaches to scripture and their transformative power.”

    Application of, no. Reduction to nothing more than, yes. It’s an impulse I struggle with in the classroom.

    Smallaxe: good thoughts, well-articulated. One potential problem I see that is, anecdotally, the RelEd powers-that-be don’t give a fig about how things are done elsewhere. WE are the BYU, after all. If they’re immune from “peer pressure” elsewhere, no change can be brought about by example.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com Nitsav

    Trevor: Good restate of my point :) I know of two PGP teachers who deal with the Abrahamic textual problems. My brother took from one, and a friend from another. My brother was positive about the one. The other, an academic, is apparently one of those who lacks all teaching skills. ACcording to my friend, he brought up all the problems in class, but either dismissed them or didn’t adequately explain how he deals with them. My friend was actually a bit shaken by his approach.

    So much of what goes on there with student interactions is heavily heavily dependent on what teacher your dealing with and what the student expectations are. Since things can swing wildly on either side, the worst opinions are formed when the biggest mismatch occurs.

  • Mogget

    the RelEd powers-that-be don’t give a fig about how things are done elsewhere. WE are the BYU, after all. If they’re immune from “peer pressure” elsewhere, no change can be brought about by example.

    Could skin that cat a number of ways.

    Personally, I’m looking forward to the General Conference session in which Elder X quotes from Cambridge Professor TT regarding some key hermeneutical point…

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com John C.

    My personal feeling is that it is impossible to change the RelEd dept from within. At some point, the Brethren may shift their position regarding the goals of RelEd. Then change might be possible. But I don’t see it happening from within.

  • smallaxe

    I think it does deserved to be mentioned that the current and past profs in RelEd have done a fantastic job at a great many things. The primary thing that needs to be changed (at this juncture) is a wider variety of approaches to the subjects being taught. I think many students are happy with what they currently get, and for now I see no reason to change that. At the same time I do believe that the faculty could be better trained at alternative approaches, and choose to use them as necessary. Also, some students do want a different approach (and perhaps we could argue whether many more need another approach). One way to impliment this kind of change would happen in student evals. Since those are taken so seriously perhaps getting students to rate the current profs accordingly would bring change faster (and with less risk) than other methods could.

    Also, I think the post below is related to this discussion.

    http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com/2008/03/13/church-education-as-consequentialism/

  • http://mormonmetalilty.org a random John

    The point is that the students might be a contributing factor to the way things have become.

    My extremely brief experience with BYU religious education was sitting in on a course taught by Alonzo Gaskill. He had been institute director at Stanford and I’d attended his classes there for 3.5 years and I thought he was excellent. Excellent institute classes were something of a shock to me as prior seminary and institute classes had been drivel.

    I sat in on one of his BYU courses and it was clear to me that the students were a huge problem. They were yearning for drivel. I lost track of the number of times, “Will this be on the test?” was asked. In my opinion some students were actively attempting to sabotage the lecture to make sure less material was covered.

    In shock, I approached him after the class and he admitted that it was frustrating teaching BYU students, and that there were some other frustrations associated with being at BYU. What a shame that CES wouldn’t pay him a living wage for the Bay Area.

  • http://juvenileinstructor.org Christopher

    John C., I’m glad to hear things on the Ancient Scripture side are better than things on the Church History side. Reid Neilson was the last PhD hired over there, and the last two hired for the department have no academic training in history whatsoever.

  • http://www.libertypages.com/cgw Clark

    Jettboy: (#13) The most memorable “religion lessons” I had weren’t even in religion classes. The one I remember most was a discussion of evolution in a biology class at the former Ricks College. I admit it did skirt the edges of religious and academic propriety.

    It’s interesting since at BYU they actually had religion classes that were required for science and engineering majors that did nothing but this. They were an interdisciplinary colloqium that covered all sorts of stuff from environmentalism, cosmology, evolution and so forth. It was interesting having two classes on evolution and religion taught by Paul Cox and then one by (OK – forget the name but he became dean of the department in the mid 90′s – was it Dahl?). The latter actually gave a pretty good class (albeit one that played up punctuated equilibrium way too much) Unfortunately I made the mistake of taking his D&C only to find it was purely “going by current Church practice to understand the D&C” combined with silly tests every class to see if you had done your reading along with classes that were nothing but superficial summaries of what we’d read. Ugh. Still brings back bad memories.

    I think the point is that some of the McConkies in the 90′s weren’t like that at all in other contexts – even teaching contexts – but that there must have been some pressure to make religious classes like seminary.

    I should add that the honors classes I had were all uniformly excellent. Many were by FARMS folks which I’m sure would annoy some. But take Stephen Rick’s New Testament class. I got assigned in that class to read Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra and relate it to the NT. How many seminary classes do you find that in? Or Chauncey Riddle’s infamous Epistemology class that might have been so-so as a philosophy class but really forced you to think about your own religious beliefs.

    John: (#24) My personal feeling is that it is impossible to change the RelEd dept from within. At some point, the Brethren may shift their position regarding the goals of RelEd. Then change might be possible. But I don’t see it happening from within.

    I’ve been out of college for about 13 years now and haven’t been in the BYU singles scene from about 7. (Yeah, I married late) But I’ve been told by a lot of people that things have changed dramatically since the 90′s. While I’m sure some of that might be wrong some is told to me by people who ought know. (Say former Honors Department Deans or other professors) There’s still a sense among the professors I’ve talked to (names protected to protect the innocent) about keeping ones head down on some controversial matters. And I can completely understand why many wouldn’t want to teach at BYU purely because of that. But what is controversial has changed. (Evolution just isn’t seen as controversial as it was even in the early 90′s let alone the 70′s)

    John: (#24) While the religion department probably isn’t what you or I would ideally want it does sound like it is far less of just a seminary program.

    I should note that at the other university I went to before transferring to BYU this was the typical teacher in most disciplines. You’d have a few but the quality of teaching at BYU was head and shoulders above many other colleges. (Going by discussions with other people who have transferred in or out of BYU) The professors were also much, much more approachable outside of class for discussion.

    The other, an academic, is apparently one of those who lacks all teaching skills.

  • I eat boogers

    Nitsav,

    I doubt the MFHD department can teach a better Bible class.

    I fully agree. My point was that the main goal in recent years in the church is to keep families from divorcing, not necessarily get people to understand the Bible better. Because of that the MFHD, or whatever it is these days, is seen as better able to advance that goal than is Rel Ed, and hence has become a de facto religion department of sorts.

  • smallaxe

    One potential problem I see that is, anecdotally, the RelEd powers-that-be don’t give a fig about how things are done elsewhere. WE are the BYU, after all. If they’re immune from “peer pressure” elsewhere, no change can be brought about by example.

    I agree that this is the general sentiment, but this is also becuase in the past when someone (both member and non-member) needed to know something about Mormonism or a Mormon approach to topic X, the RelEd dept filled that role. This could however change, and at least for many non-members and some members is changing. I don’t think BYU as an institution will be satisfied with itself not being the spokesperson for Mormonism.

  • http://www.libertypages.com/cgw Clark

    I sat in on one of his BYU courses and it was clear to me that the students were a huge problem. They were yearning for drivel. I lost track of the number of times, “Will this be on the test?” was asked. In my opinion some students were actively attempting to sabotage the lecture to make sure less material was covered.

    I think this is less a problem with religion than the General Education experience at BYU in general. Those classes are often seen as things you “get through” because you have to and they are completely unrelated to your major at hand. Plus the fact religion classes outside of honors have been little more than semiary have made students cynical and have bad habits.

    I think there needs to be some serious rethinking of GA requirements to avoid, at minimum, those insane 100 – 200 people classes if nothing else. I have a very hard time believing people learn much from the multiple choice and fill in the blank tests. I TAed for Physical Science one semester and it was a cynical eye opening experience.

  • http://mormonmetalilty.org a random John

    The class in question had about 35 people in it.

  • TrevorM

    Another note, someone mentioned Daniel Belnap as being a good professor. I have heard glowing reviews of him as professor from genuine students. I have a course from him this fall. I am hoping it will be way better than the rest of the courses I’ve taken.

    There are a lot of cynical students, but I would guess such is the case with any university’s gen ed requirements. At least any large university. Class size doesn’t always matter.

    Also, I think many students resent the cookie-cutter multi-choice fact-based religion tests. They want to be involved with understanding their religion, they want to write and think, prove they know something, but instead they are left with multiple-guess rehashes of professorial opinions. I feel that way, and I know that I am not the only one.

  • http://newcoolthang.com Matt W.

    I thought the Rel Ed. Dept did a stellar job on the New Testament Books they put out last year. It’s a shame the Book of Mormon additions of this year have been somewhat lackluster…

  • sister blah 2

    When I was playing around with the idea of seeking a faculty position at BYU, I was also thinking along these lines. I firmly believed that the department was in desperate need of someone like me, and I suspected I was the only one like me they’d likely encounter in the near future. A dear friend I’d been discussing it with shared the following New Yorker cartoon with me: A woman is introducing her date, a vampire, to her parents. The caption is “I think I can change him!”

    Interpret as you wish. :-)

    I ended up deciding not to pursue a BYU position for entirely different reasons. And I still sometimes mourn not having gone there. So please don’t make any major life decisions based on this cartoon is what I’m trying to say! But it made me laugh at the time, so I thought I’d share.

  • jupiterschild

    Nitzav, nice job. BYU RelEd is truly a strange place, full of contradictions, including the one you raise.

    This has me thinking about what’s behind the dictum that “if you can’t teach, we don’t want you.” There have been (accurate, imo) comments equating teaching with entertainment, teaching with inculcation of “moral” values, prevention of divorce, etc.

    But is there a darker side? Is “excellent teaching” used as a euphemism for “sticks to the party line”, “doesn’t venture too far in the exploration of ideas”, etc? Does the administration prey on the fact that students who are exposed to new religious ideas aren’t going to like it, and therefore will give low teaching evaluations? Does this explain why BYU RelEd seems to care more about teaching than almost any other academic institution (within and without BYU)?

    A related observation re: the internal/external solution, I’m not as confident in the internal approach as I used to be. This is because the decision as to who will occupy the Dean and Chair posts goes right to the Q12/FP (I have it on good authority). In other departments, the tenor can make a complete about-face in the course of a single generation, as younger scholars are admitted and are put in positions of power. With party-liners in administration, with veto power, I don’t see the potential for change occurring as quickly as it would in other departments. The other major factor is the enormous teaching loads, which keeps the departments (CH&D and AS) big but also allows the “must be an excellent teacher” facade to continue.

  • http://faithprorumors.wordpress.com Mogget

    I firmly believed that the department was in desperate need of someone like me

    I have to wonder about how the department sees its needs.

    In the past, I think they’ve been able to pick and choose professors. Now, as LDS students with degrees in Bible or related fields choose to go elsewhere without even applying, there may be some interest in why this is so. As Smallaxe said, it’s going to be hard for them to deal with the idea that they’re no longer the sole source of LDS perspectives and approaches to scripture.

  • Kevin Barney

    Here’s the BYU Religious Education faculty directory (74 full timers) if someone wants to do a study parsing CES types v. religious studies types:

    http://religion.byu.edu/directory.php

  • jupiterschild

    arJ (26), It’s interesting that you bring up Gaskill. I was going to mention him as one of the highly problematic hires, his highly touted teaching abilities notwithstanding. I think it’s a problematic choice for RelEd to have made, for the following reasons:

    1) He doesn’t have a normal PhD: He has a “Doctorate” in Biblical Studies from an online university. Not exactly a diploma mill, but one questions seriously his training.

    2) His biblical scholarship is not up to modern standards (probably a result of #1).

    3) One wonders, because of 1&2, what his hire (in the Church History and Doctrine dept) signals for the future of the department/college. Will they be more open to lowering their standards than in the past? (Of course, maybe the spate of EdDs and JDs has already paved this path.)

    I don’t mean to denigrate the man nor your feelings toward him, I’m asking more of a structural/institutional question.

    Finally, on the other side, here are the most recent hires, afaik:

    Reid Nielson: PhD UNC Chapel Hill, (Church Hist & Doct).
    Spencer Fluhman: PhD, U Wisconsin – Madison, History (Church Hist & Doct).
    Steven Harper: PhD, Lehigh U, American History (Church Hist & Doct).
    Daniel Belnap: PhD, UChicago, Northwest Semitics, (Ancient Scripture).
    Alonzo Gaskill: PhD (?), trinitysem.edu
    Scott Esplin: PhD, BYU, Educational Leadership and Foundations (Church Hist & Doct).
    Jared Ludlow: PhD, UC Berkeley, Near Eastern Studies (Ancient Scripture).
    Kerry Muhlestein, PhD, UCLA, Near Eastern Studies (Ancient Scripture).

    So it’s a mixed bag, lopsided toward PhDs in fields actually related to subjects taught and expertise claimed. But, before this is taken to a too-positive conclusion, we should add that there are many professors of the earlier generation currently on faculty who hold similarly impressive credentials: Brown, Seely, Jackson, Hoskisson, Pike, Szink, Griggs, etc. Why are they not in power?

    Finally, for the record, the ANES degree is a program, not a department. It draws on already-existing faculty (and, one hastens to add, allows some of the above-named professors a chance to teach in their expertise).

  • http://faithprorumors.wordpress.com Mogget


    Daniel Belnap: PhD, UChicago, Northwest Semitics, (Ancient Scripture).
    Alonzo Gaskill: PhD (?), trinitysem.edu
    Jared Ludlow: PhD, UC Berkeley, Near Eastern Studies (Ancient Scripture).
    Kerry Muhlestein, PhD, UCLA, Near Eastern Studies (Ancient Scripture).

    That’s a whole lot of Dead Language guys with no NT and no exegesis…

    Edit: OK, I think Gaskill’s work is in NT. Sorry.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com TT

    From the looks of it, Gaskill’s program doesn’t require languages. I don’t know if he knows them. Good point that none of these guys is from an actual bible program.

  • jupiterschild

    Right, Mogs and TT, except that NES is (most often?) where Bible (at least OT side) is done. On the NT side, you have to go back to a previous round of hiring, (again, to gauge roughly from BYU’s web site) to Thom Wayment (PhD, Claremont) and Frank Judd (PhD, UNC Chapel Hill). Then there’s Eric Huntsman (PhD, UPenn), poached from BYU Classics, who isn’t trained in NT (I’m guessing) but still good.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com TT

    jc, that may be the case often, but is it so at those schools?

  • http://faithprorumors.wordpress.com Mogget

    that NES is (most often?) where Bible (at least OT side) is done

    Here, OT is not done in the Semitics/ANE program. Maybe what we really want to know is whether or not their dissertations or other published work in peer-referred journals required significant interpretive interaction with the OT. Same question for the NT guys of the earlier round. I wonder just how many of the folks who teach there have dealt in depth with interpretive issues, and how many have stayed within narrower specializations such as textual criticism, NT world studies, apocryphal or pseudepigraphal texts, and the like, which may not always require one to confront and answer some of the tougher questions.

  • jupiterschild

    I believe so. I’m not sure of the intricacies of the departments (many overlap with religious studies -type departments and programs) in the UC system, but the Bible professors at Berkeley, for example (Ron Hendel and Daniel Boyarin being the most notable, I think) are in the NES department. There is a program in Jewish Studies, but not a department, again afaik.

  • jupiterschild

    (sorry, 44 was responding to 42).

    Mogs, (43), it depends on what you mean by interpretation. I think many who study “bible within its world” consider themselves to be “doing” interpretation, albeit along lines different from classical (lower-case “c”) exegesis.

    Is the reason OT is not done in ANE/Semitics due to the confessional nature of the school? I suspect the reason for the confining of Bible to ANE-type departments is the church/state problem (which transfers to secular private schools as well, and perhaps even to some erstwhile Div schools).

  • http://juvenileinstructor.org Christopher

    According to his faculty page, Gaskill’s language abilities include “Formal training in New Testament Greek, Middle Egyptian, and Biblical Hebrew.”

    Re: #38. There have been at least 2 recent hires in CH&D, neither of whom have PhDs. In both cases, they beat out guys with PhDs who applied. I believe they both start this fall and consequently, neither has a faculty page up yet.

    Also, to be fair, Kent Jackson is associate dean, so at least one from the earlier generation is in power.

  • jupiterschild

    Right, Christopher. And Hoskisson was formerly Assoc. dean as well, but I don’t consider associates to wield real power. They are means of delegation, but as far as I know don’t hold the veto power that the dean does.

    And Gaskill’s language training probably came from his MA at Notre Dame, but it’s still significant that his doctoral degree didn’t require language competencies. “Formal Training” can mean as little as a semester or two.

    Thanks for the alarming note about the two most recent CH&D hires. I’ll watch with great anticipation…

  • http://faithprorumors.wordpress.com Mogget

    Is the reason OT is not done in ANE/Semitics due to the confessional nature of the school?

    Probably — I wasn’t doubting you, just pointing it out.

    We have a School of Theology and that’s where the formal exegetical side of things happens, and especially as this work deals with theological issues. The ANE/CNE guys are in the College of Arts and Sciences. Exegesis happens in both places, as you say, but Semitics guys can opt for dissertations studying the grammar of some bit of text found on 15 pottery shards that doesn’t require much else besides the details of the language.

  • jupiterschild

    I didn’t think you were doubting me; I’m just trying to make sense of the way things have come to be (it was an honest question). It’s funny, because in most of the (secular) programs I’m familiar with, Hebrew Bible is a subfield in a Dept of ANES, along with things like Assyriology, Semitic Philology, etc. (with people doing dissys on obscure stuff), but it’s quite obvious that the students in all of these fields got into the field almost exclusively because of religious concerns. It’s the elephant in the room.

  • http://faithprorumors.wordpress.com Mogget

    it’s quite obvious that the students in all of these fields got into the field almost exclusively because of religious concerns. It’s the elephant in the room.

    Yeah, I think that’s pretty much the case here. I guess there are a variety of facets from which to approach religious interests. Is it the case that in order to investigate Biblical truth claims precisely as truth claims, you pretty much have to be in a confessional setting of some sort — a religious university or a divinity school attached to a secular one?

    Another interesting twist on the subject comes from the literature on fundamentalism, which indicates that very conservative folks will opt for degrees in dead languages and/or dissertations on very limited topics so that they don’t have to deal with the theological issues. This gives them a degree from an accredited institutions without giving up the possibility of teaching at the sort of fundamentalist institutions from which they came. (And it helps with the institutions accreditation, as well as well as less formal forms of intellectual recognition that fundamentalist also seek.)

    Dunno how widespread this is, though.

  • smallaxe

    Here are the dissertations that are available through UMI (Pro Quest):

    Fluhman: Anti-Mormonism and the making of religion in antebellum America

    Harper: Promised land: The holy experiment and the Walking Purchase

    Belnap: Fillets of fatling and goblets of gold: The use of meal events in the ritual imagery of the Ugaritic mythological and epic texts

    Esplin: Education in transition: Church and state relationships in Utah education, 1888–1933

    Ludlow: A narrative critical study of the two Greek recensions of “The Testament of Abraham”

    Muhlestein: Violence in the service of order: The religious framework for sanctioned killing in ancient Egypt

    I have to say, the titles sound impressive.

  • http://juvenileinstructor.org Christopher

    I can’t speak for the diss.’s in ancient studies (or for Esplin’s), but Fluhman’s and Harper’s are both quality scholarship. Harper’s has been published by Lehigh University Press, and Fluhman’s will hopefully be published in the near future by a major academic press.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com John C.

    Christopher,
    I would suspect Reid Neilson’s is top notch also. He worked with good people.

    Clark, you are attributing some things to me that I didn’t say. That said, I mean that a shift to more critical approaches to the scriptures will only happen when the Brethren request it. Until that time, the purposes of the classes will be to strengthen testimony, not to study scripture. I don’t believe the two are mutual exclusive, but it can be difficult to combine them and most profs (PhDs or no) are not going to bother trying.

  • http://faithprorumors.wordpress.com Mogget

    Probably all very, very good dissys. None of them seems to deal with the Bible, though.

  • jupiterschild

    smallaxe, thanks for those. Mogs, your observation (50&54) about “fundamentalists” squares with my experience as well. I wonder whether Mormons are much more in line with evangelical Christianity rather than Catholicism and Judaism in that they tend to stick to the safe topics in scholarship, those (extra-biblical) topics that keep their options open. Catholicism and Judaism, however, have much more robust ways for dealing with the past than do we or the Evangelicals. What do you think?

  • http://www.libertypages.com/cgw Clark

    John, that’s weird. Sorry about that. I tried to find where I cut and pasted that from and now I can’t find anything. Very strange.

    In any case whomever I was quoting I think there was a bit of truth to it. The ideal most of us have of the university are great teachers. Someone can be very well informed and even a great writer or researcher but a horrible teacher.

    Of course for better or worse over the entire university BYU has chosen to emphasize undergraduate education and teaching. Now I think that’s a big mistaken. And even given those goals one can debate how well they achieve them.

    To your point in (#53) I’m not sure I agree. I really don’t think all religion classes are just to strengthen testimony. (And if that is their goal I’m not sure they do a much better job than seminary does frankly) I also think there’s a lot teachers can do to emphasize scripture. But you are right it’s difficult to combine the two. Further the emphasis on scripture or doctrine is usually found in the honors classes and not the general GE classes.

  • http://faithprorumors.wordpress.com Mogget

    Well, the intersection of [non-Protestant] fundamentalism and Mormonism is pretty extensive, so theologically safe dissys are to be expected.

    I also sense that our Jewish friends have their ways of dealing with these issues, but I don’t know much about them.
    Catholics have more completely adopted various critical methodologies than another other Christian denomination. They’re pretty open about the issues, which is very important. Their interest in faith and reason serves them well, I think, as does the fact that they tend to have a “both/and” approach to things, a tradition of thinking carefully about such things, and a pope who can make authoritative declarations about such things.

    On the other hand, they came to all this less than two generations ago, so I don’t want to give the impression that there are no challenges remaining. But the Catholic Biblical Association meeting is just a smaller, friendlier, and more collegial version of the SBL with an awareness of the idea that all this must also serve the church in some fashion.

  • http://juvenileinstructor.org Christopher

    John C., Reid’s research is top notch. You’re correct. I was just responding to the list in #51, in which Neilson was not included.

  • jupiterschild

    I have Vatican II envy.

  • http://faithprorumors.wordpress.com Mogget

    Yes, it’s a very comfortable place to work in if you want both a critical approach to scripture and a Believer’s approach to life.

  • holdinator

    Is it too optimistic to hope that Elder Holland will be blessed with longevity and bring about a Mormon-sort of Vatican II?

  • g.wesley

    re # 41:

    huntsman is much more than ‘good.’

    take teaching for instance: the last greek 411 i had from him covered all but a few chapters of paul including deutero. one formal book review (e.g. ) and two formal exegetical papers were required. on the exams were lengthy multiple seen passages and an unseen passage to translate. besides the half-dozen underlined words in each seen passage for which we were expected to give the form (including lemma) and function, we were required to identify where each passage came from and to comment on literary, historical and theological issues. at the end the exams was an essay question on something like paul’s concept of justification and view of the law or how to reconcile the paul of the letters with the paul of acts. i spent about four hours on the final.

    the required and recommended texts included multiple commentaries (e.g. nigtc) and grammars (like bdf and wallace). in addition to each day’s translation assignment he had corresponding commentary sections for us to read as well as supplementary articles and chapters on different topics like whether paul was (ever) married.

    he himself gave a multi-day introduction to pauline studies the first week, including a review of greek, roman, and near eastern history. he also introduced each letter, as to the major issues involved, such as dating, authorship, textual issues, etc.

    getting to the actual business of translation in class, he first required us to read aloud with due attention to accents and other matters of pronunciation. then translation. followed by parsing and grammar questions ad naseum. for each assigment he (and/or his assistants) prepared grammatical notes with references to bdag, lsj, bdf, wallace, smyth, and assorted commentaries inter alia. he makes these grammar notes availible to students after each day’s assigment has been covered.

    it’s not just in his classics/anes courses that he takes this rigorous of an approach.

    and he’s fully committed to the transformative power of scriture.

    talk about taking one for the team and working towards balance. huntsman is making a difference instead of just chatting about it online.

  • smallaxe

    I was just responding to the list in #51, in which Neilson was not included.

    I know his topic was missionary work in Japan (looking at not only LDS missionary work), but it isn’t available through Pro Quest (meaning I can’t download the darn thing and look through it). That’s the only reason it wasn’t included in the list.

  • jupiterschild

    Yikes, g.wes, whence the vitriol? No one was attacking the guy with the ivy league degree… and I don’t think he needs your defense. Moggett and I were just saying he hasn’t been trained as an exegete, he didn’t do his work in Bible. Not that he doesn’t know his way around exegetical material (btw, language studies wasn’t at issue, so not sure where your grammar refs are relevant, neither was his background in Greco-Roman history, which is what he got his degree in).

    Thanks for stooping to chat with us online about it, though.

  • http://faithprorumors.wordpress.com Mogget

    Well, Vatican II was far more than just scripture, and, in fact, the decision on scripture actually pre-dates the Council. I may write more on it at some point in the future, because I think the Modernist crisis that helped generate the change is quite interesting.

  • jupiterschild

    That would be a great post.

  • g.wesley

    so grammar is not relevant to exegesis, which begins and ends with the bible?

  • smallaxe

    Probably all very, very good dissys. None of them seems to deal with the Bible, though.

    Sure, but can we conclude that this is at the very least a significant turn away from the way things have been done in the past?

    On another note, this is probably relevant in regards to what the expectations are of faculty: http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com/2007/10/30/byu-hiring-ancient-scrip-prof/

  • jupiterschild

    g.wesley, grammar is not relevant to the discussion of who has been trained in exegesis.

  • http://faithprorumors.wordpress.com Mogget

    Hello, G. Wesley!

    You also sound a bit tightly wound to me, as well. Why don’t you let it slide until the AM, and then re-read things and see what you think then?

  • g.wesley

    so talking about who has been trained in greek grammar is not relevant to a discusssion of who has been trained in the exegesis of greek texts?

    what do you think they do all day in classics and acient history programs if not exegesis?

  • jupiterschild

    I’ve been trained in Greek, but I’m not an exegete, not in the way we’re talking about.

  • http://faithprorumors.wordpress.com Mogget

    can we conclude that this is at the very least a significant turn away from the way things have been done in the past?

    Yes, a good point, at least as far as training goes. Do you have a sense for how much of it will find it’s way into BYU’s approach to scripture?

    I raise the issue because one of the degreed authors in the recent Sperry Symposium on the composition of the NT wrote “we know” that the Baptist wrote the Prologue of John. You could hear that from pretty much any seminary teacher. But based on pretty much everything known about the historical John the Baptist, I think that’s very unlikely to be the case. Personally, I would have considered myself bound to give a more nuanced report of the issue, if I even raised the possibility at all, precisely because I know that the idea presents historicity challenges. So I sometimes wonder whether all those degrees will actually translate into a more thoughtful approach, or if they simply provide “cover” for the periodic visits of accreditation teams.

    And on second thought, probably some of both…baby steps, I guess!

  • Julie M. Smith

    Can someone quantify these massive teaching loads for me?

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com John C.

    I don’t see how the hiring practices today significantly differ. They’ve always had PhDs in house and have been proud of the fact.

    g. wesley,
    I was trained in grammar and history in my Near Eastern program that was primarily concerned with history. I was not trained in exegesis, nor its history. That, I have had to pick up on my own. That is what Prof Huntsman is having to do. It is a lot of additional work.

  • http://faithprorumors.wordpress.com Mogget

    It’s 22 hours; nine hours in the Fall and Winter and four hours in the summer sessions. It’s in the post linked by Smallaxe at #68.

  • jupiterschild

    Julie M., the standard Religious Ed load is 9 two-credit courses (total) during the Fall and Winter semesters, and two (I believe) during either spring or summer term. The average load, from my own sense of the job market, is more like 3/2 or 3/3 (three-credit courses), with a longer summer. A great job is 2-2. (Is that what you meant?)

  • smallaxe

    Can someone quantify these massive teaching loads for me?

    5-4-2

  • http://faithprorumors.wordpress.com Mogget

    Three answers to the same query. At least we know we’re all here! ;)

  • Julie M. Smith

    Thanks, all of you.

  • smallaxe

    I don’t see how the hiring practices today significantly differ. They’ve always had PhDs in house and have been proud of the fact.

    My impression is that in the past more PhDs were in fields only tangentially related to religious studies.

  • smallaxe

    Yes, a good point, at least as far as training goes. Do you have a sense for how much of it will find it’s way into BYU’s approach to scripture?

    As I implied in the Consequentialism post, I think a lot of it can find its way into the classroom provided it yields the desired results.

  • http://faithprorumors.wordpress.com Mogget

    Yes, I read and appreciated your post on Consequentialism this AM. What I find myself trying to think through right now is whether “church activity” based on mistaken or otherwise inappropriate ideas about scripture can be considered an authentic achievement of the desired consequence.

    I’m asking, not asserting an answer one way or the other, except that for me, personally, it would not be authentic.

  • http://mormonmetalilty.org a random John

    I understand that Gaskill’s PhD is a controversial topic. My understanding is that he was doing after he had been hired by CES and that CES was not supportive at all. Not because of the institution but because of area of study. I guess CES frowns on degrees that actually involve the scriptures or religion but smiles on Phys Ed and Biz degrees.

    I do know that he spent a lot of time on his dissertation while running the Stanford institute and that he took it very seriously.

    I’m under the impression that he could read Greek (his family is Greek) and had some level of Hebrew skill.

    That said I know nothing about the quality of his scholarship but he struck me as very knowledgeable on a wide range of LDS and Bible topic and never shied away from presenting research and ideas that would be challenging to many LDS.

  • http://mormonmetalilty.org a random John

    I should also add that I’m not sure he ever wanted to be at BYU, but CES wasn’t a great fit either.

  • http://www.libertypages.com/clark Clark

    Julie M., the standard Religious Ed load is 9 two-credit courses (total) during the Fall and Winter semesters, and two (I believe) during either spring or summer term. The average load, from my own sense of the job market, is more like 3/2 or 3/3 (three-credit courses), with a longer summer. A great job is 2-2. (Is that what you meant?)

    Don’t forget that many are also called to student Bishoprics and often there are other things they are called to do as well.

  • smallaxe

    What I find myself trying to think through right now is whether “church activity” based on mistaken or otherwise inappropriate ideas about scripture can be considered an authentic achievement of the desired consequence.

    First, I think there’s a distinction to be made between purposely transmitting mistaken ideas and inadvertently transmitting mistaken ideas. I don’t think anyone I know in CES or RelEd would purposefully teach mistaken ideas. However, given 1) The large teaching loads (and other church assignments Clark alludes to). 2) The insular nature of the enterprise (i.e., their audience is primarily members of the Church), resulting in not keeping up in the literature in their fields outside of Mormon circles. And 3) For some the source of what is appropriate and inappropriate/mistaken are the authorities of the Church and not the ‘authorities’ in their field.

    Given the above, I think those that teach mistaken ideas often times do so inadvertently. Not that such is an excuse; but I think we all suffer from over commitment and not enough time to read all the books we would like to. I think the situation there, however, is exacerbated by the items I list out; and more importantly, if one way to measure the outcome of teaching is by how active people are in the Church, and the current way of doing things seems to be working, why spend even more time looking into how to change it?

  • colatina

    “If all the academics refuse to go to the Religious Education department, who will they hire?”

    This scenario seems kind of unlikely, to understate the point. So every PhD in Bible some academic theological field is going to be able to refuse BYU? The job market must be amazing–I’ll have to recommend to my undergrads the great academic opportunities are available in religious studies. It would also be strange if all or even most LDS religion scholars were to put their disagreements with the BYU religion department over the opportunity to teach LDS students at a pretty good university.

    Of course this thread has focused on the more interesting question: what if BYU doesn’t want to hire academic-track religion profs? That, I would agree, would be bad, and that is a much more likely cause for BYU having all CES-style religion profs.

  • g.wesley

    after a visit with my therapist, some sedatives, and a good night’s sleep, it is now thoroughly apparent to me that grammar is in fact irrelevant to leading out the meaing of a text and (re:#75) that history is too.

    training in exegesis truly amounts not to knowledge of ancient languages and history but knowledge of what the last 200 years of commentators have said about the bible.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com TT

    I should note that this probably isn’t the best forum for determining the qualifications of specific individuals to teach at BYU.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com TT

    g. wesley, not to belabor a point, because again I don’t want to make this about any specific individual, but I think you would readily admit that the fact that I speak the English language quite well would serve a prerequisite to, but not a qualification in and of itself, to be a professor of English literature. Rather, it is formal training in the methodologies, history, and other contours of the field of English literature that serve as that qualification. That is not to say that over the course of one’s lenghty academic career they cannot acquire sufficient skills that extend beyond their 4-8 years of graduate training.
    Again, I have no comment about any specific individual since I don’t know any of these people, only that I think you may have missed the point of some of the earlier comments.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com TT

    A few comments got caught in our spam catcher. Sorry about that! #38 and #89.

  • Kevin Barney

    Thanks, TT, I assumed that was what happened.

  • jupiterschild

    I think this “exegetical” problem is one of definition. G.wesley, you seem to be taking a broad view, where exegesis is defined by its etymology, thus anyone who interprets (“leads out” ) any text is an exegete. One would not even need language training to do this sort of exegesis (it’s done all the time in translation).

    What we were talking about was a more technical term related to types of biblical scholarship (I’ve heard Huntsman say on many occasions he wasn’t trained as a biblical scholar!). I’m trained in biblical studies but I’m not an exegete in the sense Moggett means. As TT said quite well, the (sub)discipline itself has its own research foci and contours that require certain training. Languages and history are part of that training, but simply having studied languages and history does not make one an exegete in the sense we’re speaking of (remember, I’m not really an exegete either in this sense).

    Seriously, you don’t have to get nasty. I think we’re all on the same side, this quibble about exegesis notwithstanding. Nice, chaste Moggett kisses, anyone?

  • jupiterschild

    if one way to measure the outcome of teaching is by how active people are in the Church, and the current way of doing things seems to be working, why spend even more time looking into how to change it?

    Excellent point, smallaxe. I think this highlights the problem of having CES types (those most inclined to be happy with the status quo, imo) stacking the decks of leadership. Deans and Chairs can wield a lot of influence and outright power when it comes to changing the atmosphere, but since they seem to be more concerned with keeping the party line, staying the course, or even corralling some of the more liberal professors, I see an uphill battle. (*says from his armchair*)

  • jupiterschild

    colatina, thanks and welcome! I don’t think anyone admits it’s a real possibility that there will be no one to hire. I think you’re right too that they could make it very difficult for academics to get hired (though the accreditation process could become extremely problematic).

    However, we are in an era in which many, many students are going out to top PhD programs that would qualify them to apply for religious ed posts, and many keep in contact with current BYU Rel profs. If one after another of these top candidates refuses to apply or to accept a BYU RelEd job, this might attract some attention. (Probably not likely, but it doesn’t need to be an all-or-nothing scenario for it to raise some concerns.) You probably know better than I, but aren’t departments concerned when they can’t attract top candidates?

  • jupiterschild

    And I never responded to a random John: thanks for your insights on Gaskill–makes me want to speak with a little more charity. I know people who are trying to do non-BYU PhDs while working full-time for CES, and I know it’s a really rough road, and that, as you say, CES is not always cooperative and sometimes the opposite.

  • g.wesley

    re #92:

    think about your analogy. classics phds are not just people who know the greek language ‘quite well.’ they are professors of ancient greek literature (of course some do to latin alone or archaeology) as much as any specialist in nt is if not more so!

    now i am perfectly happy to recognize that people specialize in different areas of ancient greek literature, just like people specialize in different areas of english literature, but there is not or at least should not be any difference in the fundamental methodologies one uses to lead out the meaning of a first century greek text, whether ‘pagan,’ ‘jewish’ or ‘christian.’ do you really think that religious and biblical studies phds have a corner on the market when it comes to methodology? do you really think that classics phds don’t deal with orality, intertextuality, and anonymity/pseudonymity, with textual criticism, redaction crticism, narrative criticism, feminist criticism, etc.?

    re # 95:

    while i am not opposed to the broad definition of exegesis you set out, it’s not what i have been arguing. my contention among other things is that you cannot say that an ancient history/classics phd has not been trained in exegesis. you can say that they have not been trained in the exegesis of the nt if you want, but again, why should the exegesis of an nt text be fundamentally different from the exegesis of any other ancient (greek) text?

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com TT

    g.wesley 99,
    Again, since we are speaking in generalities, and not about specific people here, I am willing to tease out this point a bit more. I have to say that I simply disagree that a degree in classics fully prepares one to be an exegete of biblical literature. To me, it seems rather absurd to even have to argue this point, but you are insisting. You have suggested, from what I can tell, that a degree in classics this is the equivalent (‘if not more so’) to a degree in biblical studies because classics people know a) grammar, b) history, and now you have added c) ancient literature. While I will concede that all of these things are important, I am not sure that you have addressed my point that exegesis is a subfield with its own history, rules, technical terms, etc, that in order to do it at a professional level requires more than knowledge of related fields. I think that the converse would also be true for someone trained in NT, for instance, would not consider themselves experts in ancient philosophy or ancient medicine simply by nature of their knowledge of a) Greek b) ancient history or c) some ancient literature. Now, as I already said above, that is not to say that someone trained in NT cannot acquire a knowledge of these things over the course of their careers because they do possess the basic skills needed, but they are not de facto qualified to speak authoritatively without having first transferred their skills in one discipline of ancient literature to another.

    “do you really think that religious and biblical studies phds have a corner on the market when it comes to methodology?”

    Of course not, and I don’t think that I have suggested otherwise. In fact, I think a great deal can be gained by scholars paying attention to the methodological issues that arise in other subfields of ancient studies. There is no question that there is a great deal of overlap.

    Perhaps we are just speaking past one another, but by no means should I be interpreted as suggesting that biblical studies forms some island that no one else can get to. Rather, I am suggesting that even if one has a boat (i.e., the requisite intellectual tools), they still have to navigate the waters over to the biblical studies island before they can accurately describe its flora and fauna.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com TT

    g.wesley: “you cannot say that an ancient history/classics phd has not been trained in exegesis.”

    Just thought it would be useful to point out that there are two people on this list who have degrees in ancient history and who have explicitly said that they have not been trained in exegesis.

  • Secco

    Joining this very active topic late, but I would add that there are more constraints than might meet the eye in BYU hiring, esp in the Rel Ed dept.

    Some years ago I was privy to an unusual conversation with a General Authority whose responsibility was in whichever of the Utah area presidencies had to oversee BYU at the time. In the course of this conversation he said that by far the majority of the complaints about BYU faculty that were received at Church HQ were that the BYU faculty were way too liberal!

    Apparently many, many parents complain that their child is learning some new-fangled approach to scripture or whatever that they considered threatening, and wanted such faith-destroying approaches stopped asap. So perhaps even more than the students, the families of the students are an influence.

    The BYU website says 31% of undergraduate students are from Utah, 5% from Idaho; perhaps dominant local cultural influences puts some constraints on the type of faculty that can be hired or what they can teach.

  • http://faithprorumors.wordpress.com Mogget

    I am late to today’s party, but I want to respond to the line of thought that Smallaxe is working through:

    if one way to measure the outcome of teaching is by how active people are in the Church, and the current way of doing things seems to be working, why spend even more time looking into how to change it?

    This makes sense from the LDS perspective. But because I’m around folks from other religious and studying Biblical texts in an explicitly believing environment, I find myself thinking that an LDS approach to the Bible as a means to church activity is quite casual and dismissive by comparison. Most folks I’m around have some sense that what they find in the Bible is the opportunity for an intimate and personal encounter with God, although this may be articulated in a variety of ways. I’m not sure I’ve heard that sentiment expressed much in LDS circles. I think I will take a look at some studies of how others talk about the objectives of their introductory religion and Bible classes and create a separate post for this line of thought.

  • http://www.libertypages.com/cgw Clark

    In the course of this conversation he said that by far the majority of the complaints about BYU faculty that were received at Church HQ were that the BYU faculty were way too liberal!

    I don’t think this can be emphasized enough. I’ve actually heard GA gripe about the stress of parents who blame BYU if their kid leaves the Church. And I think that does affect the religion department.

    Also even though BYU is heavily subsidized by the Church it also still depends upon donations. And, as at many universities, large donors can have a huge effect. (Look at the football program)

  • http://www.libertypages.com/cgw Clark

    Most folks I’m around have some sense that what they find in the Bible is the opportunity for an intimate and personal encounter with God, although this may be articulated in a variety of ways. I’m not sure I’ve heard that sentiment expressed much in LDS circles.

    I think the difference is how Mormons read scripture. Often there is less of a focus on how the author would have understood it than it is in some encounter with the text that is somewhat (or even mainly) a-contextual. That is using it as a tool for personal revelation tied to ones own context.

    I’m not saying that pushing that above the contextual understanding is good. I think it is often neglectful and limiting. But at the same time I have to agree there’s a lot of value to it.

  • http://juvenileinstructor.org Joel

    Coming to this discussion late, and having attended BYU-Idaho and now working academic History PhD on a non Mormon-related project, I just have a few thoughts to add to the discussion. First, a 5-4-2 teaching load basically eliminates any possibility of written work in religion classes unless TA’s are involved. The simple magnitude of reading essays or essay tests from that many students makes my head hurt. It also encourages the development of generic course outlines and would make it difficult for any academic to keep relevant in their fields. In their defense, most General Education courses at major Universities are even more crowded with less teacher/student interaction. The idea of general education is powerful, but it only works well if students by into it. I’d have a hard time taking a job in their religious department if I had any qualms about publishing serious research.

    Second, I think the most difficult question involved in this discussion is about what the purpose of religious education should be. If it is about building faith, then I think there is room for a variety of approaches–even the traditional CES conception. If it is about taking a more religious studies approach, then scholarship should be the primary qualification. I get the impression that the the powers that be prefer that the Religious department be more of an enrichment experience than an academic one. If this is the case I think that any academics would feel asphyxiated by the drive to build faith–not a primary goal in most academic training.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com TT

    Joel, I think that you make an excellent point, one that smallaxe and others have suggested as well, that the purpose of the Religious Education dep’t at BYU is for building faith.
    I certainly agree that there is value to this. I wonder, however, if the solution might be to create a separate department for the academic study of religion, something that is more in line with scholarly norms and values. Instead of being required classes, these could be electives, perhaps even with a separate major or minor option. Maybe one or two could fulfill Religious Ed requirements. What do you all think?

  • http://faithprorumors.wordpress.com Mogget

    As far as I know, every RelEd or Theology department in a school with a confessional orientation feels that building faith is a goal, as well as increasing or sustaining church activity.

    At this point in my research, the most successful teachers seem to be those who are most definitely NOT what we think of as CES types. It’s all very interesting, though, and so far the common theme seems to be that success is linked to being very clear about course goals and very approachable.

    So don’t you guys all fade away before I can get this thing written, probably over the weekend or early next week!

  • http://newcoolthang.com Matt W.

    I haven’t flollowed this thread as closely as I should, but has anyone mentioned that one issue is that rel. classes are required for all students at BYU. Thus, like Seminary, there is push back from the students that the classes be easy. While I like that RelEd is required at BYU, I think there should be clearly distinguished two paths, a devotional one and a religious studies one..

  • http://faithprorumors.wordpress.com Mogget

    clearly distinguished two paths, a devotional one and a religious studies one

    Tracks for major/minors show up in other schools. But I have yet to see one that doesn’t think that there are some basics that must be included in GenEd classes on religion, or to see a GenEd class designated as “devotional” against “academic.”

    So far, all of the required points in GenEd classes come from the academic side of things. There’s a sense that churches and believers can’t function effectively as citizens and witnesses of Christ in the modern world unless they understand some things about the intersection of the Bible and modern culture.

    More to come, though, I’m sure.

    On edit: It goes without saying that RelEd classes are required at confessional schools.

  • g.wesley

    re #100:

    as you say, we must not be understanding each other.

    i took the point of your analogy to be that classics phds are like people who know english quite well, whereas nt phds are like professors of english literature.

    if that’s not what you meant then great.

    if it is, i stand by my last comment. classics phds (again, some obviously focus on latin or archaeology but even most of them i would venture have read more widely in ancient greek literature than your average nt phd) are not just people who know greek quite well. they are professors of ancient greek literature as much as any nt phd if not more so.

    by this i did not and do not mean that ‘a degree in classics is equivalent to a degree in biblical studies’ in terms of specialization within ancient greek literature. what i meant and mean by this is that both are professors of ancient greek literature, the classics phd if not more so because based on my comparison of the reading lists for classics programs vis-a-vis biblical or religious studies programs, in the classics programs you read thousands of pages of greek literature (not counting coursework), while religious or biblical studies programs generally do not have such an extensive reading list in ancient greek literature if they have one at all.

    the reading lists i have seen for religious and biblical studies programs often consist of what are essentially commentaries on the primary sources and modern works in english, french and german on theory and methodology. so speaking in very broad generalities, if you want to say that religious or biblical studies phds spend more time reading modern commentaries on the primary sources and works on theory and methodology and less time reading ancient greek literature than do classics phds, that’s fine with me.

    which begs the horribly general question, who is better qualified to lead out the meaning of an ancient greek text? you may give pride of place to the phd more widely read in modern commentaries and works on theory and methodology and less in ancient greek literature. i would not.

    again, i am happy to recognize that there are areas of specialization within ancient greek literature. and by insisting that classics phds are trained in exegesis, it has not been and is not now my contention that classics phds are de facto specialists in nt texts. i do dare say that it is easier for a classics phd to complete the equivalent of a religious or biblical studies reading list after he or she has finished their program than vice versa. and if forced to choose, i would trust someone more widely read in ancient greek literature to lead out the meaning of an ancient greek text than i would someone who is more widely read in modern commentaries and works on theory and methodology. again, you may disagree. luckily in many cases one is not forced to make such an either or decision.

    to reiterate my point on exegesis, there is not or at least should not be any difference in the fundamental methodologies used to lead out the meaning of ancient greek text, whether ‘pagan,’ ‘jewish’ or ‘christian.’ why should the exegesis of an nt text be different from the exegesis of any other ancient (greek) text?

    in an attempt at summation, you and others on this thread seem to see nt studies as an island, the only place where exegesis happens. i see it as an area of specialization within the field of ancient greek literature, itself integral to the study of the ancient mediterranean world (you seem to say as much right before you describe nt studies as an island, which is puzzling to me). many religious and biblical studies phds no doubt see themselves as being isolated on an island, but the people who spoke, wrote, redacted and copied the nt didn’t. they were spread across the ancient mediterrean world constantly and inextricably interacing with the ‘pagans,’ if they were not themselves ‘greeks,’ ‘romans,’ ‘egyptians,’ etc.

  • http://faithprorumors.wordpress.com Mogget

    The thing that most interests me about your thoughts, G. Wesley, is how you came to hold them and why you feel so strongly about them. Have you heard this sort of rhetoric from others? And if so, from whom? Or did you come by these conclusions yourself?

    I’m an NT exegete and I use input from Classics when matters such as genre make it appropriate. I do so without any of the angst you’ve displayed. So what gives?

    Mogs

    ON EDIT: G. Wesley!! Can we talk offblog? Can I use your email addy to write to you???

  • http://juvenileinstructor.org Joel

    TT,

    Sounds like a good idea. BYU can’t have his cake and eat it too.

  • jupiterschild

    I hear rumblings that (non RelEd) people are discussing the possibility of a Religious Studies minor (an authentic one) at the BYU. We’ll watch with great anticipation…

  • jupiterschild

    Secco, thanks for sharing your insight, which, I think, is vital to the discussion. To what extent did you hear this GA talking about the Religious Ed college vs. BYU generally? Was it specifically pointed at RelEd?

  • fran

    mogget and tt,

    I think what g. wesley is trying to say has merit. Examine the very best NT scholars, those who have done revolutionary work, in the American, British, German and French academies during 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries and examine their schooling and you will find that most of them are classicaly trained and even held or hold joint appointments in Classics and Theology/Biblical Studies. Their language training is intensive and their exposure to ancient literary sources is encyclopedic (think Cumont, Harnack, Dodd, Koester, Betz, Klauck to name a few from various eras).

    What is the reason for this? It is because a person trained in NT exegetical methodologies alone is limited in what evidence he or she can bring to any given argument. And it is sheer folly to suppose that any proper exegetical exercise can be done without due attention to context, linguistics, history, comparative texts, intertextuality etc. These issues are all parts of classical training, training which includes exegetical method.

    For the scholars mentioned above, NT exegesis is not an end unto itself, rather it is but one tool or branch of a general approach to ancient literature.

    Perhaps I too am missing the point of the ongoing discussion. I also understand that comparing current grad students to the likes of Cumont or Koester is not fair. Perhaps the vast majority of people who do PhDs in NT studies can’t really hope to also be rigorous students of Classics as well.

    At any rate, I would side with G. Wesley, give me a professor with Classical training when it comes to a NT class because although he or she may not have read the latest commentaries on Mark or the lastest SBL paper on Q or have an opinion on whether or not 2 Cor. is in fact 5 letters or 7 or just who are the dogs of Phil., I will know for sure that he or she has all the necessary tools of approaching an ancient text.

  • http://juvenileinstructor.org Christopher

    jupiterschild,

    I’ve heard about the potential Religious Studies minor at BYU, too. Let’s cross our fingers.

  • http://faithprorumors.wordpress.com Mogget

    I must say that I find this:

    although he or she may not have read the latest commentaries on Mark or the lastest SBL paper on Q or have an opinion on whether or not 2 Cor. is in fact 5 letters or 7 or just who are the dogs of Phil

    to be an unfortunate caricature, and doubly so since I am trying to defuse the situation and understand its roots.

  • fran

    ps–for the sake of some disclosure and to forestall suspicions that I am just an apologista for Classics, I too am a grad student in NT and not a Classicist. However, I readily acknowledge that my best NT professors are classically trained and or classicists as well as NT scholars.

  • fran

    mogget,

    sorry, didn’t mean to come off sounding like that. i am new to blogging and not used to the setting. my bad.

  • http://faithprorumors.wordpress.com Mogget

    No problems. As you say, we use material from Classics all the time. And I’m not a fighty-bity-scratchy kind of person at all. I am genuinely interested in learning how and why he comes to some of his thoughts. But perhaps I will talk to him offline.

    G. Wesley!!!! Are you there???? Will you let me use your private email so we can have a bit of a talk?

    Mogs

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com TT

    g.wesley,
    which begs the horribly general question, who is better qualified to lead out the meaning of an ancient greek text?

    I am afraid that I agree that this is a horribly general question, but it seems to be the driving motivation behind your argument. May I reiterate Mog’s question and ask why this is the case? The fact is that this is such a vague hypothetical that it loses all meaning. As I have repeated argued, there is no inherent superiority to either field. The success of any individual “exegete” is going to depend on a lot of factors which are not taken into consideration in such a question.

    I suspect that you are considering doing graduate studies in classics. Go for it! There is nothing wrong with this. If however, you are considering this as a path to doing biblical studies professionally, I warn you that this is a mistake, notwithstanding the counter-examples at BYU.

    fran I think is mistaken about a number of the figures that s/he mentions. Koester, for instance, was a student of Bultmann’s, Betz and Klauck have a ThD’s. I do agree that comparing the state of current scholarship to the 19th c. world of Harnack, or even those trained in the first half of the 20th century is unfair, but these figures actually prove my point rather than g.wesley’s. In the current world of NT studies, the study of the broader G/R world is indispensable. With a few exceptions of people like Christopher Jones at Harvard and Ramsay McMullin at Yale, classics people tend to exhibit the sort of condescension towards early Christianity that g.wesley has expressed, hence they do not touch it. Let me be absolutely clear about this: I can think of no one in the last 50 years who was trained in classics who is now considered a leader in the field of NT studies. So while I agree that it is theoretically possible that a classics person can successfully exegete a NT/EC text to the satisfaction of NT professionals, it really hasn’t happened. For the same reason that NT people don’t generally cross over into classics (not because of competency to exegete classical texts), classics people don’t cross over into NT (generally because the training required to be professionally successful is an uphill battle).

    I think that what is at work in both fran’s comments and g.wesley’s assumptions is that bible people are not as a rule well-trained in classics. fine. classics people are
    not as a rule well-trained in bible. Of course, we are speaking at the level of such generalities that these assertions are meaningless. Allow me, however, to point to a few trends. First, though there are many “bible-only” programs out there that never stray from the 27 NT books, this is not the case for the overall direction of the field. (I should note that the field of biblical studies is so large that in my view it is actually broken up into different factions. There are people who consider certain people “big” names who I have never heard of. My own biases tend to stick to those coming out of the big 6 programs, with perhaps a dozen more outside of that circle). If these are the kinds of programs that g.wesley has in mind, I wholeheartedly agree with his critique. I reiterate that I have never suggested that a broad knowledge of the classical world is not necessary for NT studies. That is not the point of my island analogy. Rather, I was suggesting that all subfields in the classics are like islands, and if someone wants to cross over from one to another it takes some work.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com TT

    fran, welcome! sorry, i hope i haven’t escalated the situation.

  • fran

    tt,

    Which are big six programs that you mention?

  • http://faithprorumors.wordpress.com Mogget

    While I’m waiting, I’ll ramble a bit about what I think is on the NT island that I’m not sure I’ve seen on Virgil’s reef or the Stoic archipelago.

    First off, there’s a great huge tree called the OT and to climb it with alacrity you need at least Hebrew. The idea of intertextuality is not limited to Biblical studies, but intertextuality with the OT probably is. And the OT itself is not monolithic! The writers of the NT knew it well, and so must the successful NT exegete.

    Related to the OT in some ways is the wider field of Second Temple studies and the issues of first/second century Jewish thought. The apocryphal and pseudopigraphal libraries are themselves extensive, and quite relevant to the NT. How about Qumran? Aramaic, anyone? Syriac? Peshittas, targumim, midrashim… And not, I think, part of your normal Classics course.

    Then there’s the business of the texts. NT folks and Classicists both do textual criticism. And both will tell you that to do decently, you need to know as much as possible about the specific texts to be used. The specific texts, not textual criticism in general! Folks who work deeply in NT textual criticism don’t do much else in the NT, just from lack of time!

    Now let’s talk about liturgy. Yes, some NT works, like some classics, were written to be performed orally. Some fit into a special form of orality associated with performance in a worship service. Makes a difference when you read it, you know! And how about genre? Epistolary literature has significant overlap but not, I think apocalyptic. If you look at Kennedy’s book on NT rhetoric, there’s no chapter on Revelation.

    Another feature of the NT island is theology, and specifically Jewish and Christian theology. Exegesis is a profoundly theological enterprise, yet that aspect of NT work has limited overlap with Classics. This is one area in which I think Classicists without explicit theological backgrounds have serious difficulties. Your mileage may vary, however.

    And this business of theology brings us to matter of commentaries. Guilty as charged!!! But reading lists are not training, and exegesis is not circumscribed by commentaries.

    I have, in fact, read 150 years of modern commentaries in four languages, as well as most, if not all, of the ancient ones relevant to my dissy. This has two functions, neither of which is to mindlessly regurgitate what I’ve read.

    First, I’m simply interested in collecting the insights that others have provided. If I tell you that exegesis is something of a pack-rat enterprise, I’ll not be the first to have so characterized it.

    Second, I’m interested in how matters have been understood BY THE COMMUNITY over the years. I’m interested in the hermeneutical insights and trajectories that have failed, and those that proven fruitful well past their original era. To my mind, you don’t understand the text until you understand how it’s been understood!

    And finally, there are all the issues that arise from the fact that NT is considered sacred, and that it lies near the heart of Christian communities. I’m not so sure that questions about the historicity of Herodotus’s work will ever arouse the passion that the historicity of the Bible does. Teaching exegetes must rise to the occasion though, in a fashion that Classics profs don’t seem to need to do when they confine themselves to Classics.

    So…I think there is significant overlap between Classics and NT exegesis. I consult specialist sources all the time. I think it unproductive to be urged to chose between the two. My thoughts here are limited to an inadequate attempt to illuminate some of the differences that are part of work with the Bible. If I remain convinced that, in light of the elements of NT study that are not part of the normal course in Classics, no one can master both fields as they now stand, then you, Dear Reader, will have to forgive me. At some point everyone makes a choice between the two, after which there is no turning back.

    Nice, chaste, Mogget kisses all around!!!

    Mogs

  • g.wesley

    re # 112 and 122:

    feel free to use my email.

    as to the how, i began with an interest in reading the bible and only the bible. at byu at the time the only way to do so was to take hebrew from near eastern languages and greek from classics. i soon became partial to nt (nothing against ot). as a classics student who was only interested in the nt and later the greater christian literature, i was the one who said what some of the anes students are saying now: ‘why should i have learn attic when i just was to read the nt?’ i wanted nothing to do with ‘paganism’ or the study thereof. now i’m embarassed to admit that. i actually thought that classical training and ancient studies was irrelevant to nt studies.

    to you and others on this thread i seem to have swung too far in the other direction, and right now you’re probably thinking ‘wow, has this kid been brainwashed!’ i will be the first to admit that the route i have taken to date is lop-sided; every class i have had that dealt with the nt and early christianity has been taught as a classics course by a classicist. as far as i know, the same is true of all nt greek classes that current anes students have taken or will take at byu. (n.b. there are other courses that deal with nt and early christianity taught as anes courses not by classicists. it’s the greek language courses that as far as i know are only taught by classicists.)

    but lop-sided is unfortunately often the nature of the beast. to resort to cliches, you can approach nt through classics and run the risk of not knowing as much about hebrew/aramaic and the ‘jewish background.’ or you can approach it through anes or religious or biblical studies and run the risk of not knowing as much about greek and the ‘greco-roman background.’ pick your poison. which is more important (to you)?

    ideally we would not have to make such an either or decision. and i’m not saying that everyone does. it seems to me that the trend in nt studies has in fact been to get get away from the longstanding dichotomy as to whether the ‘jewish’ or ‘greco-roman background’ is more importnat for leading out the meaning of an nt text.

    in an ideal world professors would know everything and students would learn everthing. but that rarely happens. and not just at byu (in religion). professors teach classes and write books ‘outside their area/s of expertise’ and the topics of their dissetations all the time as i’m sure you well know.

    what got me upset was what i perceived to be a slight against an ancient history/classics phd vis-a-vis biblical/religious studies phds, which i took to be indicative of a general devaluation. then i got really heated when it was asserted that the ancient history/classics phd has not been trained in exegesis, and that grammar and history and not relavant (to a discussion about who is trained in) exegesis. from my perspective it was these comments that first indroduced the horribly general question, who is better qualified to lead out the meaning of ancient greek text? i normally am not one to push for any one program or area of specialization above the other.

    again i ask, why should the exegesis of an nt text be fundamentally methodologically different from the exegesis of any other ancient (greek) text? i just don’t buy the line that exegesis is exclusive to biblical studies, areas of specialization within the study of the ancient mediterranean world notwithstanding.

    most recently it has been books like karen king’s rethinking gnosticism, one that i know tt himself likes, that have contributed to my view of nt and early christian studies an being part of a larger whole that includes the ‘pagans,’ ‘jews’ and ‘christians.’ i don’t aspire to be specialize as narrowly as the nt or the bible (nor do i think it’s a good idea) but to specialize within the broader field of ancient mediterranean religion. this is in part because my interests are broader than the nt (to be honest i feel like the bible’s been done to death). when i was looking for programs to apply to it was place like the ancient history and mediterraean archaeology program at berkeley or the early christian and classical literature program at chicago or the bible and beyond program at rice. i would love to be able to write as well as zlatko plese of unc for instance, whose yale classics phd was on the apocryphon of john. it’s that type of ‘interdiciplinary’ work i want to do.

  • http://www.newcoolthang.com Jacob J

    I never realized capitalization is frowned upon in classics.

  • g.wesley

    re# 125:

    i would say that some common ground is beginning to emerge (e.g. that exegesis is not limited to the bible among ancient texts).

    however, in brief, my impression of your descritption of the island is that it is still too isolated.

    one statement you make i think cuts right to the heart of the difference between us. when you say that to your mind, one doesn’t understand the text until one knows how it’s been understood, i would agree that the history of exegesis is definitely important (including what the ancient exegetes thought about the text), but no more so than knowledge of the circumstances that preceded the text. if pressed, i’d rather spend my time in the sources antecedent to and contemporary with the text than in the commentaries. but that’s just my preference.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com John C.

    g. wesley,
    You seem like a pretty sophisticated reader and thinker. Therefore you know that there is no reading without exegesis (or even eisegesis). It just doesn’t happen. There is no pure reading of any ancient text (if for no other reason than that there aren’t any ancients around to use as informants regarding how to read or interpret the texts). While it is admirable to attempt to base your conclusions moreso in the original context, that actually doesn’t separate you from anyone else here. The reason the exegetes amongst us discuss the history of scholarship is because it helps everyone if the most brilliant minds of our exegetical generation don’t spend all of their time reinventing the wheel. A knowledge of the history of scholarship allows one to find the gaps in what has already been done and contribute something new (or, at least, newish).

    Biblical scholarship is recursive enough as it is; ignoring the work of others would only make it moreso.

  • http://faithprorumors.wordpress.com Mogget

    My dear G. Wesley,

    I’m impressed by your passion! I retain some reservations about some of your thoughts, as well as your understanding of my position, but I do not wish to explore those right now. One key to the situation is TT’s observation about the breath and fragmentation of the field(s). General approaches seem to have been counter-productive, so let’s leave them behind.

    What I’d like to propose is that you do a guest blog for us. I am sure our readers would be quite interested in an exegetical reading of a passage from a good, rousing pagan text according to the methodologies, etc., etc., of folks who do your sort of work.

    Will you consider it? You’ll need to develop a testimony of capitalization and then put it into practice, but I think that’s the one constraint we’ll need to agree on…

  • g.wesley

    re #129

    i agree with your difinition of reading and exegesis and about the need to find gaps to fill in the scholarship. to give an example of what i meant when i stated that if pressed i would rather spend my time in the sources antecedent to and contemporary with the text, instead of reading dodd’s commentary on the johannine epistles i’d rather be reading virgil or the stoics (about whom i know very little). i gather that mogget would rather read dodd. as i said, that’s just my preference.

    the recursive nature of ‘biblical scholarship’ is one of the main reasons i’m not interested so much in doing it. the last thing the world needs, in my opinion, is another commentary on the bible.

  • http://www.libertypages.com/clark Clark

    While I like that RelEd is required at BYU, I think there should be clearly distinguished two paths, a devotional one and a religious studies one..

    I think the honors program to a degree provides that. However it’s not a single way of looking at religious studies. I think that it would be helpful to have it formalized more. Say a list of fixed classes that meets all your requirements but gives you a more broad approach to religion. This could possibly even be done independent of the whole CES issue by the honors department dean. Maybe someone should ask Jim Faulconer if this would be possible since he was for many years the dean of the honors department. (And obviously a regular at T&S)

  • http://www.libertypages.com/clark Clark

    G. Wesley (#131), I think any modern commentator on scriptural texts would probably include context including the Stoics. (Well, I’d actually say based upon the commentaries I’ve read that the Stoics get a tad too much short shrift especially on issues of relevance to Mormons such as the materialism issue – but that’s an other debate)

    Jacob (#127), classicists frown on capitalization because it hadn’t been invented yet in the era they study. Of course one would think this would make them type in all caps. But thankfully they don’t.

    Just be glad you don’t talk to the folks focusing on ancient Hebrew. They write without vowels.

  • jupiterschild

    g.wesley, thanks for the exposition, and I hope you take up Mogget’s invitation.

    It strikes me that one of your central tenets is that there is “a” meaning of a text, having said several times that a classicist is as suited to lead “the” meaning out of the text (cc. 90, 99, 111, 126) as is a NT scholar.

    This is terribly reductionist, and I see hints here that “the” “original” meaning is a) existent, b) recoverable, and c) more desirable than any other type of meaning available. I think that this contributes in a large way to the Classics sometimes condescends to NT studies–viz., that someone trained in Greek and in History is as able to discourse intelligently about the NT as is someone who has specialized therein. (This happens in many, many fields, and I think will only increase as we try to negotiate what “interdisciplinary” means.) In any case, I think your rhetoric displays a problematic view of text and meaning and contributes directly to your assessment of the various fields. And let me reiterate, I never slammed Eric Huntsman in any way. The comment went something like, “he’s not trained in NT, but still good,” meaning, notwithstanding his lack of training, I believe him to have put forth considerable effort toward rowing to the NT island, or whatever metaphor we want to use. This I believe to have been a compliment, (but this is a prime example of meaning’s dependency on the receiver…).

    On another note, and one perhaps more germane to the initial post, I’m curious to know whether you have thoughts on why you were drawn toward NT rather than OT. I find this is the case for many, many BYU students, and I wonder whether it isn’t partially due to the (lack of) rigor in OT studies at BYU. That is, did the NT/Classics route at BYU seem more satisfying because it went deeper (in terms of grammar, history, etc.)?

  • Anon

    #89, #97, et al. – RE is in fact enjoying the richest hiring pool ever in its history, and it gets deeper every year, in terms of both the academic and teaching ability of applicants. Or so says the head of the Ancient Scripture faculty search committee. Any suggestion that RE may someday be starved for academically qualified applicants does not reflect the present reality or current trends. #97 – Anyone who has no interest in teaching in RE would not be considered a top candidate by them, and will be cheerfully ignored. Religion programs are comparatively flush with Mormons, and very many would love to teach at BYU (just go to the BYU reception at AAR/SBL; I’ve personally spoken with maybe 20 or more hopefuls in just the last few years).

    #114 – Such a Religius Studies minor would of course need approval from CORE (chaired by the RE dean) and the Board of Trustees, among whom Elder Eyring has enormous pull in such matters. Safe to say it will not happen in the foreseeable future, or likely ever. On the other hand, the ANES program was designed to fill such need as exists in this regard.

    #116 – I agree, and in fact the field of biblical studies is extremely fragmented with respect to the academic training and positions of biblical scholars. I doubt even half of SBL members have “proper” degrees in biblical studies, and that’s reflected in sessions. I don’t, but I’ve given papers and published in the field, and never felt out of place. A few comments here verge on snootiness and do not reflect the chaotic reality of contemporary biblical studies. It’s the biggest of tents.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com Nitsav

    Anon, does that deep pool of “academically qualified applicants” include JD’s and CES people with PhD’s in Education, Psychology and Counseling? Or just those with religion/theology/history training?

    Thanks for your comment

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com John C.

    “Such a Religius Studies minor would of course need approval from CORE (chaired by the RE dean) and the Board of Trustees, among whom Elder Eyring has enormous pull in such matters. Safe to say it will not happen in the foreseeable future, or likely ever.”

    The approval of the Board of Trustees, I understand. I do not understand why the approval of the RE dean would be required. Could you explain?

  • smallaxe

    Any suggestion that RE may someday be starved for academically qualified applicants does not reflect the present reality or current trends…. Religion programs are comparatively flush with Mormons, and very many would love to teach at BYU (just go to the BYU reception at AAR/SBL; I’ve personally spoken with maybe 20 or more hopefuls in just the last few years).

    Well, true and false. It’s certainly true that RE is pulling from the deepest pool of applicants that they’ve ever had. One reason for this is that they are actively pursuing both CES and non-CES potentials. By definition there are more ‘qualified’ applicants. If the standards of qualification hold (anything from a JD to a PhD in religious studies), then it does seem that the future holds a large pool of potentials.

    On the other hand if ‘qualification’ comes to mean ‘PhD in religious studies (broadly conceived)’, then there actually is a much smaller pool to choose from. Granted this pool is growing, but whether RE can compete with alternative offers (especially for the top candidates) remains to be seen. The alternative paths of those such as Bushman and Givens have become more real, and in some regards, a more appealing option.

  • http://faithprorumors.wordpress.com Mogget

    just go to the BYU reception at AAR/SBL; I’ve personally spoken with maybe 20 or more hopefuls in just the last few years.

    I wonder. I would think that distinguishing between those for whom BYU is a first choice and those for whom it is a security blanket should nothing else work out might present a challenge.

  • http://juvenileinstructor.org Christopher

    #135, I’m with John C. I don’t see why the RE dean would be involved in the creation of a Rel Studies minor, unless, of course, the proposed minot planned to use RE courses as part of the minor. It seems very few RE classes would be part of the minor.

    Also, the ANES appears to fulfill very few of of the requirements a Rel Studies minor would include since it is limited in its scope both geographically (the Near East) and chronologically (Ancient). I would have loved to minor in Religious Studies as an undergrad, but the ANES program covers virtually none of my interests.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com John C.

    I can say with confidence that ANES programs have almost nothing to do with Religious Studies programs and they do not teach the same skill set. It leads me to wonder as to the expertise and knowledge of our intrepid anonymous commenter.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com John C.

    To a person, all the PhDs and pending PhDs I know would prefer to study Mormonism at some place other than BYU (that is, of those who are interested in studying Mormonism). Those who are primarily interested in teaching Mormonism would prefer to work at BYU.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com TT

    I can say for myself that if BYU were hiring in my field of training (VCR repair), I would take the job in a heartbeat!

  • http://faithprorumors.wordpress.com Mogget

    And leave South Dakota? I cannot imagine it!!

  • Anon

    #136 – I meant by “academically qualified applicants” those with religion/theology/history or similar training, like the hopefuls with whom I (and RE faculty search committee members) have been speaking at AAR/SBL.

    #137, #140 – The BYU Committee on Religious Affairs (CORE) discusses and coordinates all major activities involving religious education and publication on campus. They are not the last word, but if they think something is a bad idea, it will probably not go past them. Any proposal like a religious studies minor would be sent first to them. Their verdict could be set aside by John Tanner or someone higher up, but that is very unlikely. But a more simple answer to your question is that academic territory is respected on campus. RE could not just start offering, say, a Russian minor without causing a meltdown in Germanic and Slavic Lang. You can’t just autonomously offer a degree program in another college’s academic area. This issue of academic territory was the root of the old RE/FARMS donnybrook.

    #138 – Perhaps we’ll have to just disagree. The pool of applicants with a ‘PhD in religious studies (broadly conceived)’ is larger than ever and, as you say, growing every year. I wish I shared your implicit optimism that bias against Mormons in hiring in depts. of religion is waning, but I see no evidence of that. Bushman is a historian and Givens an English scholar. Any affiliation they have had with religion depts. has been ancillary. The prospect of competition that you and others raise is purely hypothetical, and I think unlikely, though I REALLY hope I’m proven wrong. In fact, I hope one or all of you proves me wrong. Offhand I can only think of three LDS scholars ever tenured in a religion dept., and the last of those was some years ago.

    #141, 142 – Let me rephrase slightly: “The ANES program was designed to fill such need as THE PRINCIPAL FACULTY THINK exists in this regard.” Their concern is exclusively with biblical studies et sim., not Mormon Studies, or even Religious Studies more generally, which RE has virtually no institutional interest in. I could not judge how well they have met their own goals, let alone actual student need, and I don’t claim any particular qualifications. I’ve taught in RE and lectured in ANES classes, and know all of the principal faculty well, but I certainly do not speak for them.

  • smallaxe

    But a more simple answer to your question is that academic territory is respected on campus.

    I understand what you are saying within the context of your response, but I don’t think this is entirely true. I don’t see any RE faculty offering courses in Russian lit, but it’s possible for a prof of Russian lit to offer courses in the RE department. Not that training in Russian lit necessarily disqualifies one for teaching in a religion dept, but the lack of training in religious studies should serve as a disqualifying factor; and this certainly isn’t the case (of course one could argue that there’s a large difference between religious studies and RE, but I’m not sure how that would fit with your argument about academic territory).

    Bushman is a historian and Givens an English scholar. Any affiliation they have had with religion depts. has been ancillary. The prospect of competition that you and others raise is purely hypothetical, and I think unlikely, though I REALLY hope I’m proven wrong. In fact, I hope one or all of you proves me wrong. Offhand I can only think of three LDS scholars ever tenured in a religion dept., and the last of those was some years ago.

    I’ll concede that in the case of Givens he is not involved in religious studies in a strict sense. However 1) When I’ve used the term I’ve always employed it in a ‘broad sense’. 2) We’re talking here about people that would qualify to teach in BYU’s RE dept, of which a person with Given’s background would qualify. 3) His career demonstrates that one can be a successful LDS academic and participate directly in the field of Mormon studies. This I imagine would be appealing to some LDS who could otherwise teach in RE.

    As for Bushman, he’s currently in a religion dept. So is Kathleen Flake (although I don’t believe she’s tenured) and Phil Barlow. I’m sure there are a few others. Now, one can argue that these are scholars of a much earlier generation (although Flake doesn’t necessarily fit this bill), and there hasn’t been many LDSs since; but nonetheless these scholars do serve as a viable model for those looking for an alternative to RE.

    I don’t think the competition is ‘hypothetical’. Certainly in fields outside of Biblical Studies LDSs are on (almost) equal footing competing for religious studies, history, etc. jobs. Within Biblical Studies, as LDSs continue to go to strong programs and get the endorsement of those that train them, I don’t foresee some of the problems of the past remaining.

  • http://faithprorumors.wordpress.com Mogget

    The prospect of competition that you and others raise is purely hypothetical, and I think unlikely, though I REALLY hope I’m proven wrong. In fact, I hope one or all of you proves me wrong.

    I have a job in a university theology department starting next fall.

    Mogs

  • http://www.libertypages.com/cgw Clark

    The issue of interdepartment issues is interesting. Not being in any of these disciplines I find the discussion interesting.

    In my own discipline of physics there were tons of math classes required with those classes taught in the math department. Then there were writing classes required which were (unfortunately in my opinion) taught by the English department. One was encouraged to learn programming (although it wasn’t a prerequisite – just a practical issue) which was taught by the computer science department.

    So why couldn’t one have a religious studies major with required classes taught by the history department, the linguistics department, the philosophy department and so forth? Is that situation simply odder in the humanities?

  • http://juvenileinstructor.org Christopher

    So why couldn’t one have a religious studies major with required classes taught by the history department, the linguistics department, the philosophy department and so forth?

    Clark, my understanding is that is exactly the approach the rumored proposal for the Rel Studies minor at BYU will use. Upper-level courses in history, philosophy, sociology, etc. that deal with religion will be offered as electives/required courses for the minor, as well as a few explicitly religious studies courses.

  • sister blah 2

    #147 – Congrats, Mogget!

  • http://faithprorumors.wordpress.com Mogget

    Thank you, Sister Blah 2, but it is only a toe in the door and perhaps a small sign that Anon-RE has much to look forward to in the coming years.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com John C.

    Anon,
    my confusion remains (also, sorry for the potshot). If RE is not interested in Religious Studies and won’t be, then why would they block it?

  • http://juvenileinstructor.org Christopher

    smallaxe, I believe Flake became tenured in 2007.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com TrevorM

    I just finished a course from Dan Belnap (one of the newer religion professors at BYU) on the four Gospels. It was very, very good. He required a research paper and mandated the use of 10 sources, and limited students to no more than 4 ensign articles. He encouraged research into scholarly journals (including, or perhaps especially, non-LDS ones). He assigned readings from some scholarly sources. He gave a brief discussion of the documentary hypothesis (but never referred to it as such). He discussed meaning of words in Greek and Hebrew and how they should affect a student’s reading of the text.

    He did all of this and more, but managed to maintain a class that was faith-promoting and distinctly LDS. On top of that, his courses are becoming popular, my section was completely full. Dr. Belnap has his Ph.D. in Northwest Semitics from Chicago, and is trained in ancient languages. If a professor like this can be hired on, there is hope for the BYU Rel Ed department.

    It wasn’t a perfect class, but it was far and away the best Religion class I have ever had.

  • smallaxe

    Thanks TrevorM. The RE dept is truly fortunate to have Dan. Integrating things the way he does necessitates a multi-talented individual, which unfortunately is a rare thing indeed.

  • http://mormonsfortheenvironment.blogspot.com mellifera

    For what it’s worth, I once had an amazing Pearl of Great Price class from one Dr. Alan K. Parrish, whom many of you may know as author of Elder Widtsoe’s biography. According to my husband the book had some weak spots, and he definitely is a CES guy. So there you have it: CES is bad for young brains, end of story.

    But let me say this: he went out of his way to get us all well acquainted with Patty Bartlett Sessions and Leah Widtsoe and the things they did back before, how do you say, priesthood and non-priesthood roles became more defined. He actually egged me on to look further into it on my own, which led to radical acts like reading The Woman’s Exponent archives and citing *gasp* Sunstone in a term paper for a BYU religious education class, which somehow still managed to get an A.

    This was before I’d gone to the temple, so it was all completely new, and really helped me when I did go through. It was… dare I say it?- empowering, even though I sure do hate that word, and definitely helped shape my understanding of both the church and the gospel in a little bit more radical light. So controversy over RSR aside, at least some CES people are ok.

  • Nitsav

    Thanks for the comment Mellifera! True, CES has some gems. I wonder if it’s the best of them that end up at BYU? FWIW, my wife had a class from Parrish and loved it.

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  • Pingback: Juvenile Instructor » BYU Department of Church History and Doctrine Hiring 2-3 Faculty Positions–Application Deadline January 21, 2011

  • Steve Harper

    Friends,
    A colleague tuned me in to your discussion. It’s very interesting. I’ve been on the faculty of the Department of Church History and Doctrine Faculty at BYU for 8 years, and Associate Chair of the Dept. for a year and a half. That puts me in the Administrative Council meeting each Thursday and positions me to be in the thick of the work done by the search committee, rank and status process, etc. From that perspective, I believe this discussion is like the Apocrypha: “There are many things contained therein that are true . . . . There are many things therein that are not true” (D&C 91:1-2).

    I hope that you’ll be careful not to misrepresent anyone or anything. I trust that you’ll seek to know whereof you speak before you spread rumor or prejudice the minds of others who may be tuning in. I also ask that you write with humility as well as candor about experiences in BYU religion courses and with faculty.

    The future of LDS Church history is extremely bright. Four PhD historians were hired by the Joseph Smith Papers recently. Two others were recently hired in prominent, influential positions in the Church History Department in SLC. Another was hired by my faculty at BYU.

    The faculty in Religious Education at BYU is both diverse and unified. The faculty is admittedly not for everyone. Many will make great contributions to knowledge and faith elsewhere. But I hope that some of the best and brightest of you will continue to consider a future on the faculty in Provo. In fact, don’t wait on the sidelines for the situation to become ideal. Rather, if you’re so inclined, get into the fray and work constructively with others to make the future what it ought to be.

    Faculty in my Department have to compete for their ideas to prevail. We strive to communicate content without damaging relationships in the process. We are extremely well funded, and neither over-worked or under-paid in my opinion. I and others regularly receive course reductions and time off to pursue our research and writing agendas. Most of our students are eager and bright learners, as many of you know by your own experience. I’ve never encountered the least obstacle to serious historical scholarship. Indeed, I and others are encouraged to do it and rewarded when we succeed.

    Join us if you’re inclined. I don’t think you’ll find a more stimulating or satisfying experience anywhere else.

    Respectfully,
    Steve Harper

  • http://www.bycommonconsent.com John C.

    Steve,
    Thank you for your comment. I can say most of the confusion/angst in this post was directed at the Ancient Scripture area of RE. In my experience, the Church History folk are more open, but my experience is very, very limited and, therefore, possibly wrong.

    In any case, I’m glad that you dropped by. Thank you for the information and sunny outlook. Such is always needed amongst the academic and unemployed.

    Finally, a post that you might want to take a look at (being on the search committee and all) is this one.

  • SmallAxe

    Steve,

    I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the post that John links over to because it’s more recent and more relevant to the issue at hand.

    If there has been any misrepresentation on our part, we apologize and would like to know where we are mistaken. As a matter of fact, I think most of us hope that some of our perceptions about RE are in fact mistaken. Much of what we have to say about RE comes from a conflict between our desire to participate in the study of religion at BYU and some of the less than positive experiences we’ve had with RE. If anything we’ve said is not the norm, or is incorrect, we’d gladly admit our inaccuracies.

    I do want to engage one point you make: I don’t think you’ll find a more stimulating or satisfying experience anywhere else.

    I think you’ll find that my post, which John liked to, addresses this. If “stimulating” and “satisfying” means producing scholarship and teaching in accordance with the training we receive in graduate school, then I’m quite puzzled by you’re statement. As I mention in my other post, RE is on par with other high-teaching load schools (in less than desirable locations). These other jobs (4-4 loads) have the added benefit of being able to teach majors in religious studies, develop our own courses, and teach them more in line with the training we’ve received in grad school. These places also tend to be in less than desirable locations, have open enrollment, and are usually poorly funded. RE makes up for many of these drawbacks–the students are bright, the place is well funded, and Provo is close to family.

    RE is on par with these high-teaching institutions; and indeed, great things can come from them. At the same time, though, RE shouldn’t position itself as more than that; and I think this is where some of the frustration comes from on our part. If RE is on par with the University of Arkansas, which has a 3-3 load (I’m guessing here) and essentially offers the same kind of department that the Philosophy or History Department at BYU offers, it should then structure itself as such.

    You ask us to “get into the fray”; but making the statement I just made doesn’t seem prudent for someone applying for a job in RE. The faculty in RE should indeed see it as the best place to be; but this notion of the “best” should be seen in context, and until it is I don’t think you can expect potential hires to openly express their thoughts about what the future ought to be.

  • Nitsav

    Steve, thanks for dropping by. It’s not often that we have BYU folks explicitly post comments. The post was directed much more towards Ancient Scripture (my area), which seems to be fairly divided and ideologically at war internally and externally. My impression is that CH&D has already dealt with its issues and moved on, to the benefit of all.

  • Steve Harper

    Friends,
    My sense is that neither Dept. in RE is as monolithic as this thread suggests. As many of you know, I share some of the concerns expressed by various commenters. My purpose is to work from the inside on what I see as problems and to value people whose views differ from mine in the process. Trust me, RE is not dominated by tyrants who want to keep me or you down. I have received all the encouragment and commendation I could ask for. The leadership of RE is friendly (to the tune of enormous amounts of money spread out in substantial chunks as dissertation grants to would be PhDs, not all of whom will end up in RE) to PhDs in a variety of fields.
    There are people with responsibility in RE who did not come from CES and who are outspokenly in favor of moving RE in more scholarly directions. Richard Bennett is an associate dean with responsibilty for fostering scholarship.

    I am worried that this thread does a fair amount of “other fashioning,” to use old jargon. A reader could easily be led to the conclusion that there’s us and them, the good guys and the bad guys, the truly educated and the morons. That’s too simplistic. It’s neither accurate or constructive. Inside RE there is more of a spectrum than two poles, and even that’s an inadequate characterization.

    I am concerned that much of what is said in forums like this will actually have the unintended consequence of causing some RE facutly to retrench, nullifying my efforts. If PhDs in history, Bible, religious studies provide public evidence that they are indeed arrogant, self-righteous, narrow-minded, condescending, and unwilling to compromise, then RE at BYU will continue status quo or retrench. If Phds in history, Bible, religious studies will be capable, well-trained scholars who are pleasant to work with and excellent in the classroom, then RE at BYU won’t be able to not hire them, nor have any desire to avoid them. But I guarantee you that well-meaning but arrogant letters that tell RE what it thinks and what it ought to think will, right or wrong, cause RE to become more, not less defensive. Be careful not to make matters worse in your attempts to make them better. Rather, make yourselves, those of you who are interested, the best possible resources for the future of RE, and make constructive contributions.

    Some of you asked for clarification about what I felt was accurate and inaccurate in the various threads. Besides what I’ve tried to clarify above, I’ll say this: teaching in RE is not evaluated solely on student feedback. Evaluations are sophisticated and take lots of my time. Moreover, student feedback in the aggregate is extremely valuable when you know how to read it. RE doesn’t use student feedback at face value. It knows who to discern the data.
    My father used to say that anyone who wants to be a bishop should get the opportunity. In that spirit, I say that anyone who wants to be a professor should be on the receiving end of student criticism. ‘Tis so much easier to give than receive. Be candid but kind. Be careful not to flush your future, and the future of RE, simply because you have a forum and even, perhaps, a valid argument. And further to that point, RE courses at BYU are best taught by study and by faith. Note the explicit scriptural rejection of the false dilemma. PhDs who want to teach religious studies straight will not be happy on the faculty here. But I teach the documentary hypothesis when I teach Bible. I teach the historical problems when I teach LDS history. Indeed, a few years ago the John Whitmer Assoc. had me to their meetings to explain how I do that. I’ve never been opposed, told to be quiet, or even discouraged. That’s because my colleagues know that I’m firm in the faith and that my goal is to solidify students firm in the faith. If you’re interested in RE, reject the false dilemma that the courses must be either faithful or scholarly. Our own standards (which, granted, we may not always rise to) tell us that they must be both. Can you think of any more intellectually and spiritually exhilirating challenge? If you want both, there are precious few places on the planet where you can find a satisfying home. RE is one of them. Come and see!
    Steve

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com TT

    Steve,
    Thank you so much for your comment. I appreciate that you’ve framed these
    issues as a conversation among friends, and hope that you will accept that
    from me as well. We are truly grateful to have you address some of these
    concerns that have been raised. I just wanted to comment a few things that
    your response raises.

    First, it is a pleasure to hear you acknowledge that BYU RE does have a
    spectrum. I think that view is admitted. There are some really wonderful
    people there. I think that the admission that the department is not
    monolithic may also explain some of the negative experiences that many have
    reported. That said, it is truly wonderful to hear that you have such high
    job satisfaction, and this is a sign of hope and comfort.

    Second, I want to address your warnings that the raising of criticism may be
    damaging to our goals.  I am sure that you share the goals that many
    of us have for seeing a more scholarly, responsible, and serious RE program,
    one that truly prepares its students for the thoughtful study of Mormonism. Yet, the idea that anonymous blog criticism outlining the
    weaknesses of BYU RE truly and seriously threatens the transition to a more scholarly
    BYU RE is not particularly encouraging about the commitment to this
    transition. If even non-employees shouldn’t say certain things critical of
    BYU RE faculty in public for fear of a retrenchment against scholars, the
    issues of academic freedom may actually be more serious than we think.
    Statements such as this: “Be careful not to flush…the future of RE, simply
    because you have a forum and even, perhaps, a valid argument,” sound like
    you are saying that some things that are true are not very useful.  If I may
    be frank, the warnings that you offer here may
    serve to increase the bad blood that sometimes exists between LDS grad
    students and BYU RE. Just as you are concerned that the vocalization of
    criticism threatens progress, I worry that the dismissal or silencing of
    these criticisms has an equal and opposite effect on your pool of potential
    hires.  The frustration comes when the concerns that potential hires have
    become reasons to cross them off the list rather than the occasion to
    address the concerns themselves. I think that we all know that things take time, and we all share at least some degree of optimism. But ultimately, you seem to suggest that the privilege of changing BYU RE
    belongs only to those employed there full time, and that all others should simply remain silent. There is a certain value to
    this approach, and I also understand that institutions don’t like to see
    their dirty laundry aired. At the same time, there needs to be space to
    offer critique. Just as students should evaluate their professors, and such
    critiques be given proper weight, so should evaluations of other faculty,
    colleagues, and other observers be given it’s proper weight. Feedback in the
    aggregate is extremely valuable when you know how to read it.

    Third, I would say that while some have suggested separating BYU RE as an Institute
    of Religion at BYU from more scholarly approaches to the study of religion as happens at all other universities,
    I don’t think that anyone means that issues of faith should not be open and
    welcome in the RE classroom.  Rather, I think that the concern is that the
    question of “study” are often subordinated to that of “faith,” such that
    study is always of secondary status in that pair. To offer an example, in ancient metaphysical
    terms, the soul controls the flesh.  Both substances exist, but the wise person knows that the soul should master the flesh. In this case, the worry is that the faith
    masters the study, rather than truly mutually informing.  As you say, “the faith” can connote a degree of certainty, fixity, and clarity as the
    standard by which scholarship is judged, rather than submitting our faith to
    critical scrutiny as well.  The concern is that it seems that many begin
    from the faith as the stable, dominant side of the equation, and study is
    only brought in either to confirm it, or to demonstrate that study is weak,
    but the faith is willing.  Perhaps the ideal of a truly harmonious faith AND
    study that takes seriously scholarship is too much to ask given the current
    configuration of faculty, but it is certainly the ideal in which I think we
    are all engaged.

    It sounds like you have thought about ways of making this work, and as you
    say you teach some of the “scholarly” issues like the Documentary Hypothesis and other
    “problems,” perhaps even including Joseph Smith’s polygamy and sexual
    relationships, the anachronisms in the Book of Mormon, or issues of race and
    gender in the church.  Since you’ve presented some of your approaches
    publicly in the past, would you be open to authoring a guest post on how you
    teach these topics?  It might be useful for all to show us how you’ve
    personally worked out all of these issues, how you teach them in the context
    of RE, and to have a robust conversation about the issues involved. 

  • http://www.bycommonconsent.com John C.

    Steve,
    Far be it from me to discourage anyone from trying to reform RelEd from within (reform is probably too strong a word, but you know my meaning). Unfortunately, if I understand my history correctly, reform in Ancient Scripture has been attempted, repeatedly, and has never taken. Primarily, as I understand it, this is because the Board of Trustees prefer it a certain way. Which is just fine, of course. It’s their school and they can run it however they see fit. It just wasn’t the place for me (which is okay because they didn’t seem to want me either :) )

  • smallaxe

    Hi Steve,

    I really do appreciate your continued engagement; and I want to reiterate the respect I have for the RE faculty. Some of the most influential professors in my life are in RE. As far as other-fashioning is concerned, I would like to note that I do believe we are all on the same team, and that any attempt to foster an us versus them attitude should be tampered with an understanding of us all having more commonalities than differences.

    I’d also like to point out that this blog, like RE, is not monolithic either. Not only are a diversity of opinions represented among the bloggers, but among the readers as well. Many of the spiteful comments, although by no means all, come from readers, so I hope you are not conflating the two.

    My criticism of RE has, for the most part, been a practical kind and not a disciplinary kind. If it comes off as arrogant, self-righteous, narrow-minded, and condescending that indeed is a reflection on myself (as well as those making the observation) and not on any discipline such as History. Indeed, I would not want a truly arrogant person in my department, regardless of whether they were a trained historian, family therapist, educator, etc. I fail to see how public criticism of the kind I offered in my other post nullifies your efforts. Surely arrogance can come from any field.

    You suggest making these criticisms in private, or working from the inside to institute change. However, by far and away the sense I’ve gotten, echoed in your comments here, is that many of those in RE believe that there really is no better place than RE. This leaves little room for understanding the parameters of change.

    That’s because my colleagues know that I’m firm in the faith and that my goal is to solidify students firm in the faith. If you’re interested in RE, reject the false dilemma that the courses must be either faithful or scholarly. Our own standards (which, granted, we may not always rise to) tell us that they must be both. Can you think of any more intellectually and spiritually exhilirating challenge? If you want both, there are precious few places on the planet where you can find a satisfying home.

    I’m not sure anyone here has asserted a distinction between the faithful and the scholarly; but more to the point, the kind of language one can use in any circumstance is constrained. As you note, your language is constrained in as it must “solidify students firm in the faith”. I’m not suggesting being antagonistic to faith, but there is a certain kind of freedom in operating without that restraint. Of course at secular institutions, other kinds of language is constrained; and part of accepting these constraints may be personal preference (although here I may actually make a disciplinary argument about which constraints should be valued).

    My point here is to reiterate what I’ve said on the other thread. RE is not a bad place; and scholars of religion can find satisfaction there. I do think, though, that RE has a problem with self-perception. While individually there may be a number of shining stars, it is not on par in terms of the infrastructure other colleges/departments at BYU offer, nor with many of the other academic institutions in the US.

    This shouldn’t stop all involved from thinking that RE is in fact a great place to be; and from thinking about how it might be improved. I do wish, though, that instead of touting it as the most “stimulating or satisfying ” experience possible, or one of the “precious few places on the planet where you can find a satisfying home” (which is explicitly “other-fashioning”), it can be promoted in more fitting terms–as a place that puts teaching first (a kind of teaching that may rarely involve the skills one cultivated in grad school, offers classes only at the introductory and required level, and yet engages bright students in their personal development in the gospel); a place that encourages publication by funding research and conference travel, but does not value publication the same way that other departments do by offering a comparable teaching load and weight in tenure and promotion; a department without a unified methodology, and therefore somewhat in transition in terms of its identity; and most of all as a place that might have something to learn from the discipline of religious studies and therefore not the only, or even primary, way to “build the kingdom”. I do, actually, have more to say, but I fear I will continue to come across as someone who tells RE what it ought to think.