Is SBL Purposely Ignoring the World’s Religious Culture?

Is SBL Purposely Ignoring the World’s Religious Culture? January 12, 2016
One time my close friend Professor Scot McKnight, now at Northern Seminary near Chicago, suggested that I do as he had done long ago and join the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL). I replied that it was for biblical scholars with PhDs, so that I wasn’t qualified. He said that was not exactly correct and that because of my writing theological books, and thus my deep interest in the Bible and theology, that I could join and that I would benefit from doing so.
So, I have now been a member of SBL since 1999. Since then, I have missed attending only one of its Annual Meetings that are held in a large, downtown, convention center in different large cities in North America. Each Annual Meeting last four or five days during the weekend prior to Thanksgiving. It is a highlight each year for me. SBL has approximately 8,500 members that include nearly all of the leading biblical scholars in the world. Most SBL members are professors with PhDs who teach the Bible and other related materials. On their website, SBL explains, “Founded in 1880, the Society of Biblical Literature is the oldest and largest learned society devoted to the critical investigation of the Bible from a variety of academic disciplines.”
The SBL Annual Meeting consists mostly of two things: (1) a huge book exhibit hall in which leading religious publishers have booths where they display mostly their most recent books that members can purchase for about a 50% discount, and (2) many hundreds of usually 2.5 hour sessions in which perhaps 4-6 members typically deliver papers they have written, with a Q&A following. The Meeting is also about networking between members and scholars as authors collaborating with publishers.
In 2012, SBL helped create and thereafter nurture the International Qur’anic Studies Association (IQSA). Soon afterwards, I contacted its executive director, Emran El-Badawi. I did so partly because Mr. Badawi is a professor at my alma mater–the University of Houston in Houston, Texas. I also did it to inform him of my book, The Restitution of Jesus Christ, which I believe helps to bridge the theological divide between Islam and Christianity concerning the doctrine of the Trinity, though that is not my any means why I wrote the book. (See the comment about this book by Muslim apologist Bassam Zawadi at my website by clicking on “Reviews.”).
Every year since the creation of IQSA it has numerous sessions at SBL’s Annual Meeting. Last year at SBL-Atlanta there were several signs about IQSA posted throughout the convention center and some of the major hotels. Each year since the inauguration of IQSA in 2012 I have checked the program book to see what they are discussing in their sessions. It usually is very technical material about the Qur’an, and much of their discussion would be about the Qur’an in its original Arabic language. Thus, I haven’t attended any of their sessions. I have inquired with SBL about why they don’t have any meetings involving SBL and IQSA discussing the primary theological divide between them–which is mostly that Christians assert their doctrine of the Trinity and that Jesus is God, whereas the Qur’an strongly denies this–but I received no response from SBL.
Now, something is starting to happen in Islam that could become very important as well, and I think SBL is missing the boat about this too. I’ve blogged about it twice, yesterday and on 4/4/14, about Egypt’s President el-Sisi, a Muslim, calling for not only a “religious revolution” in Islam but a revision of the Qur’an’s texts advocating violence against non-Muslims. (See the post on 4/4/14 for a list of those verses.) He expresses great alarm about these Muslim extremists such as ISIS justifying their atrocities by reciting the Qur’an. Indeed, many of these people are the ones most devoted to the Qur’an. Sisi is not the only one calling for this reexamination. It seems to me that IQSA should be discussing this in the SBL Annual Meeting, but they aren’t. And where is SBL in all of this? SBL likes media attention. They got it with historical Jesus studies known as The Historical Jesus. This subject might generate as much media attention or more.
I have some reserve in being the one speaking out about this because I am a non-academician. But sometimes I can be frustrated with the academy not engaging the culture and thereby making itself appear irrelevant to most of the world. I write theological books with my target audience being common readers interested in religion. In doing so, I regularly cite biblical scholars. Sometimes my readers chide me for doing so since they think such people aren’t wort considering. So I try to defend them.
Publishers’ Weekly is the leading publication in the world that informs and advises the publishing industry. PW has been telling religious publishers and their authors that they need to relate more in their books to common people who have an interest in religious subjects. What radical Muslim extremists are doing in the world right now, and claiming to be guided by the Qur’an in doing it, is pretty important. They are blowing themselves up and many others in the name of Allah. Are SBL and IQSA refusing to engage the culture about this, which has to do with their sacred books, because it is politically correct? Just asking.

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