The Trouble with BYU’s Religious Education (Part I)

This post isn’t meant to discuss the specifics of Randy Bott’s circumstances. Instead, I’d like to write about how the Bott situation signals two long-standing methodological problems for Religious Education as a whole. I believe this contributes to an ongoing discussion within Religious Education, but since I’m not privy to that discussion, I’d like to raise the issues here.

I’ll begin by spelling out the problems, and in future posts I’ll discuss the possible short-term response to these problems and my desired long-term response. I should note at the outset that my caricature of RE is not representative of every professor in RE; I do believe, though, that it is representative of the dominant paradigm within RE.*

Religious Education values pedagogy over content. RE professors are hands-down some of the best instructors I’ve seen. RE prides itself on having the highest ratings on student evaluations in the University; and Bott, as many know, was the 2008 professor of the year on RateMyProfessor (calculated solely by student feedback). Many of the professors in RE are trained as instructors rather than historians, philosophers, theologians, etc. In other words, their graduate schooling was in education and not history, religious studies, or philosophy. Bott, if I recall correctly, wrote his dissertation on effective ways of presenting information. The current problem with Bott is largely a result of allowing an expert on ‘x’ to present himself as an expert on ‘y’ (an instructor, in this case, presented as a theologian, in the broad sense of the term). Bott’s field is not theology (or even Mormon history), it’s education. Putting experts in pedagogy in a religion department and allowing them to provide an account of issues such as blacks and the priesthood is much like a father giving the keys of his car to his young… oh, wait, poor choice of metaphor. Okay, it’s like putting a mathematician (who happens to read Shakespeare) in an English department and asking him or her to comment on Shakespeare’s portrayal of women in Hamlet; there, that’s much better.

It isn’t that the mathematician will necessarily give a bad account of the issue (one of the best religion professors I had at BYU was a professor of music, and it was obvious that his training in music shaped the way he read the texts); rather, the mathematician can only draw on his training in responding to the issue. His training may lead to an insightful answer to the question (and may then become a larger part of the interpretation of Hamlet), but more often than not the answer will not be as good as the answer provided by someone trained in Shakespearean literature. This is because the mathematician does not have the same kind of background—he does not know the historical context of Shakespeare, the tradition of interpreting Hamlet, or methods involved in the study of women. This isn’t to say that the mathematician is incapable of acquiring this training; but we shouldn’t expect someone trained as a mathematician to speak as an expert on Shakespeare unless experts on Shakespeare have attested to his or her abilities.

One reason that this problem has persisted as long as it has is because pedagogy can sometimes gloss over inappropriate content. A reason that students attend class is to gain knowledge they currently lack. Students are, for the most part, unable to judge the accuracy of the information provided in many classes. While it’s not easy to confirm new information, it is much easier to gauge the degree to which one enjoyed a particular class; and enjoyment is often related to how the information is presented rather than the content of the information itself. Having seen Randy Bott lecture a few times, I can attest to the fact that his presentations were some of the most enjoyable I’ve seen.

The second problem is the social status of Religious Education professors. They are, for many Latter-day Saints, de facto authorities of Mormon thought. Until 2010, the mission of RE was “to build the kingdom of God by teaching and preserving the doctrine of the gospel of Jesus Christ” (for the new mission see here). “Preserving” the doctrine presupposes that they know the doctrine; and “kingdom building” aligns their goals with the goals of the institution of the Church. In a system without professionally trained theologians, they essentially fill a void. In some regards it’s a win-win situation for the Church and RE. The Church has resources to draw on for determining doctrine and creating curriculum, and at the same time can maintain its claims of having no paid clergy. RE profs are looked at as the guardians (or “preservers”) of the faith and are given minor celebrity status in the Mormon community.

While RE professors are de facto authorities of Mormon thought, they are often de jure authorities of wards, stakes, or missions. In this sense they are intellectual authorities as well as ecclesiastical authorities.

They are not challenged by others the same way that most academics are because they do not publish in venues where their work is critiqued and evaluated by their peers. Instead they publish in LDS venues where “quality” is not determined by trained professionals in a discipline. Additionally, our (LDS) community is not one where challenging authority is welcome; as such, it rarely occurs.

These two problems create the real possibility of an excellent instructor teaching outdated or ill-reasoned content that is not subject to question. It seems to me that these are the reasons that allowed for Randy Bott to teach what he did, where he did; and for him to be regarded by the media and our community as someone qualified to speak on the issues he chose to speak on.

 

*There are competing paradigms, and there have always been professors in RE that do not have these problems. The growing number of professors trained in religious studies (broadly conceived) suggests that what I’m calling the dominant paradigm is on the wane.

  • http://kelhopglen.blogspot.com DCL

    I thought that Sam Brown’s comparison of an RE instructor to a “youth minister” was apt. I remember attending BYU as a naive California Mormon and not knowing what to make of the RE Department – it was a weird mix of Phd’s who were true experts theology or ancient languages (Ludlow, Parry, etc.), armchair Mayan archaeologist-types peddling their half-baked theories to freshman Book of Mormon students, and glorified seminary teachers, identifiable by their substantial followings of giggling girls.

  • Emerson

    (Warning: long comment ahead. But I’ve been wanting to vent this for a while, and I think it is worthwhile to have some semi-insider information.)

    This is a great post, and hits to the heart of the issue. First, let me echo this point in your footnote: “The growing number of professors trained in religious studies (broadly conceived) suggests that what I’m calling the dominant paradigm is on the wane.” This is, I think, very much the case.

    Several points that I gleaned from a lunch with the chair of the Church History Department last year, as well as close association with a lot of faculty members. The department has tried, at least for the last decade, to balance hiring between CES-trained teachers (who, importantly, held degrees in other fields, as you astutely identify in this post) and academics trained in religious studies-related disciplines. They consciously tried to keep a strict balance here, with surprisingly positive results as they brought in a number of great professors (along with, of course, the standard CES types).

    Now, the negatives. (I’m now speaking mostly of the Church History Department, as that is what I am most familiar with.) Since a majority of the faculty prior to this attempted integration was strongly CES-oriented (including those in administrative positions), life was tough for most of the academically-oriented teachers. As a result, a lot of them left the department for either other departments, other schools, or to go work up in Salt Lake for the increasingly impressive history department at the Church History Library. This means that the growing number of academically trained faculty is now, once again, a small minority.

    And, the positives. Despite being in a minority, the progressive disposition has a seemingly bright future, for two reasons. First, the CES as an institution, due to new rules and protocols for their teachers, will not be providing the same amount of candidates for BYU, and thus their pipeline into the BYU Religion Department will probably decrease; the department chair was very open about this, and strongly believes they will not be hiring as many CES people in the future. Second, due to pressure from university administration, the department knows it has to be more academic in outlook from here on out, and they have already implemented steps to do so. So, now both the department and the school is strongly pushing to have the issues addressed in this post finally ironed out. (I imagine (or at least, I hope) the Bott controversy will only further this impulse.)

    The biggest way they will do this is through hiring new staff as a lot of the faculty retires in the next decade. This is where the Ancient Scripture Department has already done a lot of good work that the Church History Department is trying to copy: the AS Department has been very forthright in recruiting top LDS scholars in related fields to come to BYU and change the department’s environment, and they have, in large part, succeeded. Church History has taken similar steps in recent years, both by bringing in extremely bright graduate students to teach adjunct during the summers, and by holding functions at events like the Mormon History Association’s annual conference to recruit even more young scholars. It is yet to be see, though, if this will equal a promising crop of young faculty that will not only sign on with the department but remain through the thick and thin.

    Of course, there are some institutional policy changes that need to take place as well. For instance, they need to find a way to encourage more academic scholarship, including implementing a system that forces more peer-review work (as you rightly point out in the OP). This doesn’t mean that they should delegitimize traditional outlets like Deseret Book, though, because I do think that Mormon scholars do need to speak to the general LDS audience. But it should push for more balance and rigorous scholarship.

    Alright, this is already horrendously long, so I’ll stop there…

  • clark

    It’s interesting as BYU does offer (or at least did offer) a lot of religion classes taught by people outside of the religion department. The best were always the classes in the honors department which often were taught by mathematicians, physicists, engineers, english professors or (best of all) people trained in ancient near eastern studies or American history. If you are more academically inclined these are fantastic.

    The majority of religion classes are taught for people who honestly probably would never study their religion carefully were it up to them. The goal is to get people some rudimentary familiarity with Church doctrine (as opposed to understanding the text on their own terms) as well as hopefully have a motivational factor.

  • http://byzantium.wordpress.com Kullervo

    It is important to note that Religious Studies and Theology are (at least according to the general consensus of academia, such as it is) two distinct disciplines. RE coursework at BYU–and LDS Institute coursework at other institutions–is coursework in Theology, not coursework in Religious Studies. To the extent that RE professors are trained in Religious Studies, that’s probably closer than RE professors trained in Education and worth noting, but still awfully wide of the mark.

  • http://timesandseasons.org Ben S

    That’s an encouraging upside to what I had seen as a negative of CES (the recent discouraging of PhDs).

  • Last Lemming

    Why not split RE into two distinct entities: one a full-fledged academic department, and the other an Institute of Religion like every other major college campus? The CES types would land in the latter and be subject to strict doctrinal oversight without impinging on academic freedom, while the Ph.D.s would land in the former and be free of such constraints.

  • smallaxe

    As a result, a lot of them left the department for either other departments, other schools, or to go work up in Salt Lake for the increasingly impressive history department at the Church History Library.

    It is yet to be seen, though, if this will equal a promising crop of young faculty that will not only sign on with the department but remain through the thick and thin.

    Are there faculty who have left to other schools? I’m only aware of those leaving to other departments at BYU or the Church History Library. I ask because my sense is that one problem with going into RE is the limited possibilities of moving somewhere else.

    Church History has taken similar steps in recent years, both by bringing in extremely bright graduate students to teach adjunct during the summers, and by holding functions at events like the Mormon History Association’s annual conference to recruit even more young scholars.

    I’d like to note one negative about the current hiring procedures. If you don’t come out for a summer, or spend a year as a visiting assistant professor, you don’t stand a chance of being taken seriously as a job candidate. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been teaching your own courses at Stanford. Teaching RE courses are regarded as being totally unrelated to teaching elsewhere. In some regards I can sympathize with this; but coming out to Provo for a summer privileges those with family in the Provo area, those with spouses who do not work, and those willing to give up their other summer plans. I’ve spent my summers studying languages, preparing for comps, traveling for research, etc. If these opportunities are given up to teach in RE it may result in lengthening a graduate program or limiting opportunities outside BYU.

    I’m also unaware of anyone that’s been a VAP in RE that has gone on to get a tenure track position at another institution. So this goes back to the problem of the broader perception of BYU’s RE, and the way it might stigmatize those who work there.

    I would agree, though, that momentum is pushing toward hiring more PhDs in religious studies (broadly conceived).

  • smallaxe

    Hi Kullervo,

    In academic terms, as you note, theology and religious studies are quite different things. RE coursework at BYU, though, is neither theology or religious studies. While there are a diversity of approaches in RE, as we’ve been talking about it here, it’s a devotional approach geared to create stronger members of the Church. While this might be a kind of theology if “theology” is taken in a broad sense of faithful people thinking about their own religion, it’s not theology in the sense that the academic field of theology theorizes about itself–it’s not philosophically or historically rigorous enough to a be kind of faith seeking understanding.

  • Stan Beale

    I see a similar type of discussion over the calling Church Historians who are not trained historians. I have assumed much of this is a result of the Arrington imbroglio and also due to the contrasting views of the role of a church historian, faith promotion versus hisorical rigor.

  • smallaxe

    Why not split RE into two distinct entities?

    Because this presupposes a broad consensus in RE (and in the larger university) that there are in fact two different things going on in RE. My sense, as noted in the OP, is that while there are some that recognize a distinction, there are many that do not. The culture is one where those who make it to BYU, despite not being trained in religious studies, are deemed intellectual authorities on religion. It’s going to take time and effort to demonstrate a difference.

    This doesn’t address the question of required religion classes. Are they taking these at the institute, or in the religion department, for instance? I imagine there are a host of other practical problems.

  • http://prolusionsix.wordpress.com DLewis

    Great post. You could probably nuance these positions further by considering the curricula being taught. It’s difficult to decide who’s qualified to teach “Book of Mormon” since there’s no open consensus about which historical/geographical period it fits into (should 19C American historian get it? Near Eastern Studies? Literature professor?). But this class is the most taught course at BYU. This alone will create some problems in defining who’s the “expert.” Likewise, Bro. Bott was teaching a class (“Preaching the Gospel”) that should in no way be a college credit course, since there’s no discipline involved at all (the way it’s often taught, it might fit better in the business school). If RE really wants to reshape their department, they should set stricter conditions on the type of classes that get taught, and then hire faculty accordingly.

  • smallaxe

    DLewis, you raise a good point.

    Here are some preliminary thoughts. In any department most professors teach outside their area. In a religious studies department, most professors will teach some version of “world religions,” for instance. The problem, though, is recognizing the difference being able to teach about something and being a scholar of it. If my training was in the Hebrew Bible, I might be able to teach a month about Hinduism to a class full of undergraduates; but I certainly wouldn’t want to be interviewed for a national newspaper where I would be put forth as an expert on Hinduism. In academic terms this might be discussed as the difference between an area of study (AOS) and an area of competence (AOC).

    In this light, a literature professor, 19c American historian, or a NELC person could, in theory, teach BoM. However, I also believe that there are differences between teaching beyond one’s area of research and teaching beyond one’s discipline (although disciplinary lines are sometimes fuzzy too). I’d feel confident that someone trained as a 19c American historian could meet the learning objectives for a class on the BoM. I’d feel less confident about a sociologist; and even less confident about a biologist. This isn’t to say that it can’t be done, but the sociologist would have to provide good reasons why he or she is competent to teach such a class, and the biologist would have to do the same.

    Now, all said, I do think that the devotional aspect of RE classes is a good thing; and I think the dominant view has been that any BYU faculty member can teach the BoM devotionally. But I think RE needs to reconsider what devotional means and how the devotional aspects fits into the other learning objectives of the class.

    And by the way, I love your posts on the BoM as tragedy. I lament not having the time to comment on them.

  • Intheknow

    RE is an interesting entity.

    You rightly argue that many CES faculty hold educational doctorates and have very strong teaching backgrounds. Some, like Bott, are on a professional track and not the professorial track. These professors focus solely on teaching and do not publish. They teach more classes and have higher enrollments than those on the professorial track as well. So a teacher on the professorial track may teach 4-5 classes in a semester with an enrollment of 150-350 students, while a professional track teacher (like Bott) will have 5-6 classes with an enrollment of 1000-1500 students in a given semester.

    Of course, some RE faculty on the professorial track have doctoral expertise in areas such as Hebrew Bible studies, Greek New Testament studies, northwest semitic studies, patristics studies, intertestamental studies, and papyrological studies.

    All professorial track faculty are expected to teach and to publish to merit advancement in their rank and status. Although some faculty (not generally those in textual fields) do focus more on devotional publications through LDS publishers like Deseret Book, there are many others (esp. in AS) who publish academic materials in peer-reviewed academic venues such as Brill, T&T Clark, Walter de Gruyter, Oxford, Society of Biblical Literature, Journal of Early Christian Studies, Novum Testamentum, etc.

    In my view the BYU Religious Studies Center and the Maxwell Institute (sans apologetics) are putting out some solid academic work as well. Rigorous peer review is becoming more and more a main stay with both of these publishers. I think the excellent textual studies such as the JST book from the RSC or some of the Abraham publications from MI indicate a step in the right direction. I’ve also been quite impressed with what the Maxwell Institute has been doing with their periodicals. It seems that they’re trying to move further away from apologetics towards a more academic focus.

    RE is definitely not a monolithic entity. Right now it has both the worst and the best in it. And, unfortunately, the worst of RE too often gets the airtime, giving even the best a black eye. Hopefully, through attrition and good hiring RE has a bright future.

  • smallaxe

    Intheknow,

    Thank you for your comment. I think you’ve portrayed quite well the other side of the coin, although I would change some of your “many”s and “some”s: Although many faculty (not generally those in textual fields) do focus more on devotional publications through LDS publishers like Deseret Book, there are some others (esp. in AS) who publish academic materials in peer-reviewed academic venues such as Brill, T&T Clark, Walter de Gruyter, Oxford, Society of Biblical Literature, Journal of Early Christian Studies, Novum Testamentum, etc.

    RE is definitely not a monolithic entity. Right now it has both the worst and the best in it. And, unfortunately, the worst of RE too often gets the airtime, giving even the best a black eye. Hopefully, through attrition and good hiring RE has a bright future.

    I think your comment about the worst and best in RE needs to be qualified. All there are capable scholars, just not in religious studies. The problem, as mentioned in the OP, is that RE profs are accorded a kind of social status as scholars of religion. Many of them turn out to be poor scholars of religion. My guess is that many of them also do not keep up to date in their own fields; but I really think that the problem extends beyond CES or BYU and can also be attributed to the parochial nature of Mormon culture.

    I’m also concerned about your statement of “good hiring”. I find some of the current practices problematic, although I think I’ll save that for a future post.

  • Pani

    Go Utes!

  • intheno

    smallaxe,

    I don’t know the statistics of RE well enough to quibble about “many” vs “some” but can only give you my opinion that the majority of profs are trying to do what they’ve been hired to do.

    It is true that working for the Church in RE does entail a guardianship of faith and doctrine. This is certainly to be expected. However, I see the minor social, celebrity dimension of being a RE prof as inevitable but mostly a distraction.

    RE will never be a religious studies department. But, as you know, that is not its stated purpose. This fact also plays into why certain profs choose not to stay up on their fields of study.

    I like Emerson’s post above about changes in hiring practices (esp. with AS). It seems to be connected with reality.

    Looking forward to your second installment.

  • Cushan Rishathaim

    The reality is that Ancient Scripture has been dominated for many years by individuals who are so fearful of academically engaging “ancient scripture,” that the only “academic” (i.e. non CES) professors the department hires are individuals who lack degrees in “ancient scripture.”

    There’s no question that the department has in recent years hired a variety of bright individuals, but look down the list of their various fields. Note that you will not find any recent hires with a degree in ancient scripture (Hebrew Bible and/or New Testament). Instead, even the academic personal the department hires at most have “ancillary” degrees to ancient scripture:

    “Northwest Semitics.”
    “Patristics”
    “Instructional Technology”
    “Archaeology and the History of Ancient Judaism.”
    “Education.”
    “Medieval Jewish Literature.”
    “Near Eastern Religions.”
    “Mesoamerican Studies”
    “Egyptology”
    “Lifespan Development Psychology”

    Where are the degrees in “ancient scripture,” especially Hebrew Bible? Answer? For generations, BYU has a fostered a department of fear; fear of those with an actual academic speciality in “ancient scripture” and the threat they pose.

    The LDS and the Bible session of SBL has become an embarrassment, and really needs to be cancelled for the good of the Church.

    Even the couple of older professors who have had legitimate degrees in “ancient scripture” have never done academic work in Bible. At most, they’ve worked on issues connected with textual criticism in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

    This comes as no surprise, however, and follows the exact same pattern as every conservative Christian seminary program, which hires professors with ancillary degrees (especially “History of Biblical Interpretation”), who have been too fearful to engage the Bible from a historical-critical approach, and who then return to their respective seminaries in order to indoctrinate their students on the evils of higher criticism.

    BYU’s Ancient Scripture department is no different in this regard, and its faculty will never be respected as Bible scholars.

  • Cushan Rishathaim

    It’s true, some of the brighter folks in Ancient Scripture have published in their respective fields with Brill, T&T Clark, Walter de Gruyter, Oxford, Journal of Early Christian Studies, etc.

    But has anyone in the history of the department ever published an article dealing with the Bible (Old or New Testament) in the Journal of Biblical Literature? I think the answer is no.

  • http://timesandseasons.org Ben S

    There’s some truth to your comments, Rishathaim, but I find it a little narrow. It’s not uncommon for Hebrew Bible people to come at it from a ancient Near Eastern perspective instead of a Div school. Mark Smith (NYU), for example, has his PhD from Yale’s NELC department, not Div school. Many people who do Hebrew Bible end up less capable of dealing with (let alone controlling) the all-important non-biblical contexts. That was certainly the case at UChicago, where the Div school even had its own in-house Hebrew classes, which were rumored to be vastly inferior and much easier than those in NELC.

    As for publications in JBL, there is Thomas A. Wayment – “A Reexamination of the Test of POxy. 2949″ in summer 2009, and David Bokovoy (although not technically hired on yet at BYU itself) “Invoking the Council as Witness in Amos 3:13,” JBL 127/1 (2008): 37-51.

    I was familiar with those off the top of my head, and have no idea if there are more or not.

  • smallaxe

    I don’t know the statistics of RE well enough to quibble about “many” vs “some” but can only give you my opinion that the majority of profs are trying to do what they’ve been hired to do.

    Before a few years ago it was roughly 3/4 trained in fields completely unrelated to religion, now I think it’s closer to 2/3, approaching 1/2. No doubt, though, that everyone is trying to do what they’ve been hired to do (although I think “what they’ve been hired to do” is changing and somewhat unclear for new hires).

    It is true that working for the Church in RE does entail a guardianship of faith and doctrine. This is certainly to be expected. However, I see the minor social, celebrity dimension of being a RE prof as inevitable but mostly a distraction.

    I don’t think it necessarily entails a sense of guardianship (or if it does I would question how strong the notion of guardianship need be). If you note the new mission statement in comparison with the one in the OP:

    The mission of Religious Education at Brigham Young University is to assist individuals in their efforts to come unto Christ by teaching the scriptures, doctrine, and history of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ through classroom instruction, gospel scholarship, and outreach to the larger community.

    There is a clear shift away from language of “kingdom building” to language of the individual; and the notion of “preserving the doctrine” is gone. I don’t want to make too much of this, but one way to take it is as a kind of distancing from the role of guardian.

    As for the celebrity status, even if we assume that few profs actually want this, the problem is that it contributes to the situation described in the OP where RE profs are less likely to be challenged.

  • smallaxe

    The LDS and the Bible session of SBL has become an embarrassment, and really needs to be cancelled for the good of the Church.

    Amen; although I think there are others that might turn it around.

  • smallaxe

    Ben,

    I don’t think Cushan Rishathaim’s point was so much about a NELC-Div School divide as to question how many in Ancient Scripture actually have been trained to work on “Ancient Scripture”.

  • Cushan Rishathaim

    “I don’t think Cushan Rishathaim’s point was so much about a NELC-Div School divide as to question how many in Ancient Scripture actually have been trained to work on “Ancient Scripture”

    Precisely. Nor was my objective to trivialize the validity or capabilities of the “academic” faculty at BYU. Again, some of these folk are very, very bright and are doing serious academic scholarship in their respective fields.

    Just not in Bible.

    There has always been a tremendous fear of such things at BYU, and I believe it has only gotten worse, not better. With its efforts to focus on devotional teaching while engaging in “safe” scholarship as defined, in part, by the guardianship of those who have earned ancillary degrees to Bible, there are so many problems with this department, they’re legion.

    While I’m no prophet, I suspect at some point (especially with the lack of CES personnel pursuing PhD’s), Religious Education will simply transition into an Institute program under the direction of S&I. The powers that be are not going to want to maintain a mandatory religion department filled with critically trained scholars with little to no experience in the ways of CES, devotional style teaching.

    That is NEVER going to happen!

    Also, remember, like S&I, BYU actually falls under the umbrella of CES; technically, both are simply separate departments. Over the years, S&I has become much more conservatively focused on teaching principles of application than doctrine and/or scripture content. Gone are the days of the Gerry Lunds, Cal Stevens, and Michal Wilcoxes.

    Religious Education is on the same exact track, just at a little slower pace. I suspect it’s only a matter of time before these two paths finally become one.

    In my opinion, LDS graduate students interested in religious studies of any sort (especially Bible) should plan on looking elsewhere for employment. Fortunately, we’re clearly seeing a rise of serious academic scholarship on Mormonism developing far and away from BYU.

  • Cushan Rishathaim

    Ben,

    “I was familiar with those off the top of my head, and have no idea if there are more or not.”

    Thank you for those examples.

    So perhaps in the history of the department, it would appear that there have been two: one on an issue of biblical contextual analysis (by someone who is technically not in the department), and another dealing with NT manuscript issues (a very, important subject, but also very, very “safe”).

    For whatever reason, very few people in the history of the department of Ancient Scripture have ever been trained to work on ancient scripture, and to my knowledge, no one in the history of the department has ever published an article on “Bible” in a non-LDS academic journal.

    I’m happy to be corrected if I’m wrong.

  • http://timesandseasons.org Ben S

    Perhaps I don’t understand what you’re looking for that would qualify as “Bible”, then. A PhD labeled as “Hebrew Bible”? JBL articles on source criticism? Theology? Can you provide some examples?

  • Cushan Rishathaim

    It’s not a matter of a “label,” Ben, it’s a matter of professional, academic training in reading the Bible in its ancient literary and historical context, a field of inquiry that, yes, forces students to interface (whether they accept the arguments or not) with the topic of higher criticism.

    Presumably, a PhD in New Testament or Hebrew Bible will be trained to interpret these religious texts as ancient documents, without the lens of any contemporary theological perspective.

    Traditionally, conservative evangelicals who want to work in “Bible,” but do not want to engage the ways in which a serious, historical analysis presents problems for their theological preconceptions, have avoided this challenge by focusing on such topics as Dead Sea Scrolls, Early Church Fathers, Archeology, History of Interpretation, anything but the “Bible” itself.

    While very bright, I would not categorize such persons as biblical scholars.

    So in what way are the academic degrees and work being done in Ancient Scripture any different than this evangelical trend?

    I remember speaking with an LDS scholar who despite his interest in Hebrew Bible, shared with me that he pursued a degree in Egyptology because he did not want to address source criticism, and he believed that academia could not teach a Mormon anything about the Bible, since we already have the truth.

    I wonder what he’s doing now?

  • http://timesandseasons.org Ben S

    So it’s more about dealing with uncomfortable historical/critical/theological topics, in your view? If so, I’d argue the degree is somewhat irrelevant, since one can engage those topics without it (again, see Mark Smith.)

    The real problem is institutional.

  • smallaxe

    Cushan Rishathaim,

    I’m interested to hear more about this fear. What makes RE fearful of someone actually trained to study Bible?

    Ben,

    If I’m understanding CR correctly, it’s not about dealing with uncomfortable topics, but about the fact that being trained in the Hebrew Bible, for instance, means that one is trained to interpret the text. How many in RE have actually be trained to interpret the text of the Bible rather than dealing with issues ancillary to it?

  • Cushan Rishathaim

    Ben,

    “I’d argue the degree is somewhat irrelevant, since one can engage those topics without it (again, see Mark Smith.)”

    Mark Smith is of course an outstanding scholar who has made significant contributions to biblical studies. Please don’t mistake what I’m saying. I’m not arguing that people with ancillary degrees lack this ability.

    Again, Ancient Scripture has some brilliant minded folk with legitimate degrees in Northwest Semitics, Patristics, Archeology, etc., who like Smith, could make some major contributions to biblical scholarship. They certainly have the minds for it. However, outside of a couple contributions on “safe” topics such as textual/manuscript issues, this has not yet happened.

    It could, and hopefully it will, but personally, I doubt it.

    Both you and Smallaxe are partially correct on my points:

    (1) It’s true, many (I would argue most) of the powers that be in Religious Education lack the ability and/or courage to deal with uncomfortable topics.

    (2) Being trained in New Testament or the Hebrew Bible means that one has been trained academically to interpret the text and we don’t see the Religious Education hiring any of these people.

    I wonder why!? Perhaps Latter-day Saints are not pursuing degrees in “Bible.” If not, again, I wonder why!?

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/faithpromotingrumor/ Chris H.

    Maybe because our narratives cannot be supported with a serious study of the Bible. Maybe. :)

  • clark

    I’m not sure that’s right Chris, although I suspect some might say that certain dogmas have arisen within the academy where such dogmas are underdetermined by the texts. (i.e. there are more ranges of possibilities) I’d also add that most BYU oriented people I’ve discussed things with (admittedly not the CES oriented religion teachers) have no trouble with source criticism in general and sometimes even use it. (Think some of the claims about the nature of the brass plates of Lehi) On some particulars they may have trouble though. The classic one is of course how to deal with quotations from Isaiah in the Book of Mormon that appear written after Lehi.

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