Scholar in Training

The blog of a new postgraduate student hoping to make it against all odds in the harsh world of modern biblical scholarship. Wow, it almost sounds like a Hollywood blockbuster...

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

What's the point of SBL?

It takes someone who's been to SBL to ask this question, and Hugh Pyper graciously obliges with his remarks on presented papers:
"One thing that I continue to rail at is the unrelieved wordiness and worthiness of so many presentations, with honourable exceptions of course. Boy are they worthy! [...] How often do you sit in a paper and think, 'I love this subject, and I know more about it than most, but if this person goes on any longer, I'm going to lose the will to live, let alone touch the topic with a barge pole.' If that's how feel after 20 minutes, what do their students feel after a semester?"
As of yet, I haven't really come across this in as far as academic papers go. True, I've found some of the Sheffield Research Seminar papers hard to follow, but that's more down to my ignorance of the subject material rather than a deficiency in the presentation. (The papers presented yesterday by Paul Nikkel and Deborah Kahn-Harris were excellent, though - very user friendly, easy to follow, and interesting to boot!) It does worry me that someone like Hugh, who's been teaching Biblical Studies/Theology for 13 years, can sit down and effectively say "Boredom is the norm in conferences".

Perhaps it's not the norm, and Hugh is just being cynical - though Mark Goodacre also notes that he "would be keen to see more quality control" (on the back of Ed Cook's post - for which some of the comments on it by others are illuminating!), and makes a plea for the use of handouts.

Some more (illuminating?) comments, this time on last year's SBL international meeting from a grad student called Mark Stephens, who is commenting on Mark Goodacre's blog post here:
"As a grad student, my own reflections on the SBL international meeting in June would be more nuanced. Many academics, IMHO, have zero idea how to communicate their ideas. They know how to research and to write papers, but as regards the all important rhetorical skill of delivery, that is sorely lacking. Grad students are simply following in their masters footsteps... There is a reason many people fall asleep in lectures - they are boring. In fact, for many lectures, I just wish they would write the article and I would read it in my own time. These comments do not apply to everyone, and there are some absolute masters of presentation, but we need to give up on the idea that we are at present teaching people how to present in an oral context. If we are teaching it - it isn't working."
Fairly damning overall, but it links to the final question Hugh asks:
"How efficient a way of communicating is the average conference session? [...] It did make me think about the role the blogging community could have in raising the standards here - any reactions?"
I think that, given the openness of the whole biblical blogosphere, standards could be raised. For example, I could post a link to a written paper I was due to give at SBL 6 months early, and ask for hints/tips/ideas not just about the content, but how it might be best presented. In postmodern culture, just reading a paper doesn't work anymore - well, I don't think so anyway. People are more visual these days. A good PowerPoint presentation works wonders, as opposed to a bad one which just looks daft. If we use handouts in class, why not at conferences?

However, the genius of the internet is that not only can one publish the text of a paper, you could also publish the PowerPoint presentation and ask for constructive feedback on it. You could record a podcast of yourself delivering the paper, and ask for criticism on that as well for good measure.

...but, of course, some of the ideas above could make going to conferences partly redundant if everyone was into online publishing, blogging and podcasting all the time. :-) Would open biblical scholarship (also see here) destablise the whole point of conferences? There's a question...!

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

My "Holiday"

Well, almost every other biblical scholar in the world is at AAR/SBL, and I'm not. Maybe next year. But, since I have a couple of reading weeks, I decided to visit some of my old friends as Mattersey Hall Bible College to find out what they're up to. Sadly, a few of the people I was hoping to see aren't here - Andrew Davies is in the USA, Glenn Balfour is in South Africa, and all the first year undergrads who I was hoping to meet are all away on mission. Bah!

Still, never mind. It's been cool to be back at Mattersey for a few days - I have fond memories of my first degree, and it's a very scenic place. Not as warm and sunny as Philadelphia, but I don't care. It's cheaper!

And, on the subject of money, the Student Loans Company here in the UK sent me my first annual statement this week. It was a horrible reminder that I owe nearly ten thousand pounds to a faceless organisation. The horror of it all... Plus, they had the gall to send me a little note with the statement telling me that they may have overstated the balance by a maximum of 7p per one thousand pounds. Gee, thanks guys... I give you thousands of pounds, you give me 70p...

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Blogs: An Academic Issue?

Having browsed the web a little in preparation for a plenary seminar we're having about biblioblogging at Sheffield on the 5th December, it seems as if blogging as an extension of scholarly activity is a little controversial with some. Two recent fairly negative articles about blogging have recently appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education (in July and September), written by the same person under a psuedonym. They make some salient points, one being that maintaining an academic blog could possibly damage career prospects. That might not matter too much if, like some of my Sheffield tutors who blog, you have a distinguished publishing record - but if, like many (the majority of?) bibliobloggers, you're a graduate student, it could matter. A lot.

Of all the criticisms, this seems the most practical and pragmatic one. Just because I happen to blog, does that mean I'm damaging my future job prospects? If I have a political opinion that I air on my blog, or a faith perspective, or something else that would fall into a 'personal' realm, could I lose out on jobs that I would have got if I didn't have a blog? Well, if that ever happens, then I don't think I'd be truly happy in those jobs anyway. I don't want to engage in dispassionate scholarship. I passionately believe that my personal life is tied up with my research, sometimes in small ways, but more often than not in major ways. I am a Christian, after all.

I quite the way Sepoy on Chapati Mystery puts it: "As a scholar, it is not coming out of the ivory tower into the real world, it is bringing the world into the ivory tower." Rebecca Goetz is also pro-blog as far as academics goes. See also the if:book blog entry about a meeting that they had on academic blogging.

So, where do I think biblioblogging is headed? Group blogs, certainly. It'd be really cool for, say, the SBL Johannine Literature group to blog about their papers, work, direction, etc. It would make it a lot easier for people who haven't ever been to SBL (like me!) to meaningfully contribute something next year (when I do plan to attend!). However, I'd love to see, at some future point, a Sheffield Biblical Studies Dept. blog, where the whole department (and maybe ickle grad students like me) can engage with the online world of biblical scholarship in a collective way, and let everyone else know in an open and accessible way about the cutting-edge stuff being done here. Something like the Chicago University Law School blog - though this idea would depend on whether Sheffield Unversity would be happy for its staff to do this! (And, of course, whether the staff wanted to as well!)

There are many more questions and issues involved in biblioblogging at the moment, and I'm looking forward to hearing about the SBL biblioblogging session. Mark Goodacre has posted a link to one of the papers being given, which I haven't yet had a chance to read. (See also Rick Brannan's paper.)

Hugh Pyper turns to blogging

With his very unsuitable blog (and book), Sheffield scholar Hugh Pyper bursts onto the blogging scene like a supernova. Even though I remember him saying to me that he wasn't going to. :-) Still, there's no law against people changing their minds, and I'm sure I'm not alone in looking forward to Hugh's contribution to the (biblical) blogosphere.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

It's been a while... again!

However, I am still here!

Just got back from church, which brought up some stuff that I thought I'd dealt with, but obviously haven't. My grandad passed away earlier this year (February), and after tonight it's clear that I'm still grieving. He was a loving and caring man, a huge support throughout my undergraduate degree, and it was so hard not having him at my graduation ceremony.

Still, onto more directly related academic stuff. I had another idea for a dissertation topic on Friday as I was reading in the Sheffield library, prompted by a recent CBQ article by Kelli S. O'Brien entitled "Written That You May Believe: John 20 and Narrative Rhetoric". What is the function of the beloved disciple (BD) in John? Is he, as so many commentators have claimed, the 'ideal disciple', or is it a lot more complicated than that? To be honest, I'd never really considered the problems of reading the BD as an 'ideal' before - indeed, in my last undergraduate essay on John's Gospel, I thouroughly endorsed the idea! But there are real problems with the reading of the 'ideal' BD.

For starters, does the BD fulfil the conditions of Johannine discipleship? As far as I'm aware, disciples are to believe in and witness about Jesus. Until ch.21, which by all accounts is a later addition to the gospel, the BD doesn't do any witnessing. Would an ideal disciple leave Mary weeping by the tomb in ch.20, while just going home. (Just like Peter, it must be added - so, while Peter and the BD are frequently contrasted in the gospel, they still do the same thing in ch.20!)

I think deconstruction/poststructuralism can make a positive contribution to the study of the character of the BD, and also to the whole construction of the 'ideal' in John. Obviously, the idea needs a little more work, but hopefully I can shape it enough to suggest it to my supervisor, Hugh Pyper, after he gets back from SBL.

Goodnight, all. Looking forward to some cool posts on 'biblioblogs' from SBL!

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Bizarre Site of the Week

I might make this a weekly thing, we'll see...

Anyway, I came across this website with the rather pleasant (and grammatically incorrect) address It's certainly one of the more extremist websites I've come across, with such hyperlinks as "Whoremongers click here", "Perverts and other sickos click here" and "Hellbound of the Month". There's an interesting animated GIF which caught my eye:

The site, suffice to say, is very literal in its interpretation of hell. It tends to take the book of Revelation very literally, which being a partial preterist I don't agree with at all. Apparently every 2.5 seconds, someone dies and goes to hell, though how the site can predict that with any accuracy is anyone's guess. If you scroll down a little, it turns out that the site is 'KJV-only', which is daft - not least because the KJV NT is based on the Majority Text, which is not the best Greek NT text. (It's also really hard to read, even for someone who got an A in English Language/Literature A-Level!)

Basically, what I'm trying to say is that this Bizarre Site of the Week is bizarre purely because I can't quite see why anyone who actually reads the Bible could get a theology like this one! It's very interesting to find out how other interpret the Bible, but sometimes for me it's quite sad. Especially in this case: why make hell rather than Jesus the focus of a NT theology?

Thursday, November 03, 2005

David vs. David

Just watched the Conservative party leadership candidates debate on BBC Question Time. Very interesting. Listening to BBC Radio 5 Live at the moment, the general impression is that David Davis just won, but there were no "knockout blows" made. Personally, I think David Cameron came out quite well, but that's possibly because I'm 22 and not in my 40s (or older) like most of these radio presenters and political commentators. Certainly, I think Cameron has his approach to policy exactly right - general ideas now, exact details later when the Conservative party has had time to think about it, as opposed to Davis' "headline grabbing" approach to policy.

Now, I'm too much of a socialist to ever vote Conservative, but if I were on the right of the political spectrum I'd vote Cameron. So, there we go. I'm decided. Of couse, since I'm not a member of the Conservative party, I don't have a vote, but if the Tory party members have any sense they'll all listen to me!
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