“God is not in this classroom” 8

There is a new session at this year’s SBL: “Teaching Biblical Literature in an Undergraduate Liberal Arts Context” (S18-77, 11/18/200, 1:00 PM to 3:30 PM, Room: 154A – CC). My paper has the above title and the following abstract.

“God is Not in this Classroom” or Reading the Bible in a Secular School
Teaching biblical literature in a secular Liberal Arts environment requires allowing the texts to speak for themselves, so that students might hear what the texts have to say (which may not necessarily be what we want to hear). This is easier said than done since we must attempt to leave religious convictions, traditions, and specific agendas behind. At the same time, we must also recognize that we will not always be able to avoid our own historical context and bias. In light of these challenges and through my eight years experience as a Christian teaching courses in a Jewish Studies program at a secular university I have developed methods (and discarded others) for teaching the Hebrew Bible that include reading the texts critically as literary and historical sources while salting the course with Jewish, Christian, Islamic, and other interpretations. The goal is to use the potential handicaps of preconceived ideas and convictions as gateways into the material. God may well be in the classroom and miracles may well occur, but the students know that they have to determine that for themselves.

I would like to invite those of you reading this blog to please feel free to comment and offer your thoughts on the above and the general premise of this session.


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8 thoughts on ““God is not in this classroom”

  • Evan Sparks

    Too bad your session is going on at the same time…

    Be sure to be in touch when you get into town for the conference.

    S18-73SBL Forum Session: Comics, Graphic Novels, and the Bible
    1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
    Room: 140B – CC

    Dan Clanton, University of Denver, Presiding
    G. Andrew Tooze, Winston-Salem, NC
    Do Superheroes Read Scripture? Finding the Bible in Comic Books (30 min)
    Terry Clark, University of Colorado, Colorado Springs
    Biblical Graphic Novels: Adaptation, Interpretation, and Pedagogy (30 min)
    Andrea Molinari, Creighton University
    Perpetua, Felicitas, Graphic Novels and the Possibility of Modern Hagiography (30 min)
    Greg Garrett, Baylor University, Panelist (15 min)
    A. David Lewis, Author, The Lone and Level Sands, Panelist (15 min)
    Steve Ross, Author, Marked, Panelist (15 min)
    J. T. Waldman, Author, Megillat Esther, Panelist (15 min)

  • cbrady

    This is always the way! BTW I still need to write my review of Marked. It is a very creative and interesting rendering of the Gospel of Mark, but I am not convinced… Be sure to see Ralph’s review here.

  • Alan Murphy

    I hate to play the critic, but… well, okay, I don’t hate doing it. I might rephrase “we must attempt to leave religious convictions, traditions, and specific agendas behind” to something more to the effect of “check at the door,” because it seems to me that you could potentially be understood as encouraging students to permanently abandon their belief traditions in favor of the literary- and historical-critical schools of thought. I don’t see critical thought and religion as diametrically opposed, but there are people (on all sides of the spectrum) who do, something you know better than me, probably.

  • cbrady

    Alan, I agree and certainly do not mean that students have to reject their personal convictions in order to be in the class. I do think that the best engagement occurs when we suspend (to the best of our ability) any prior convictions or beliefs that we might hold. It has also been my experience that opening myself up to various (and often opposing) concepts usually leads to a reevaluation of my prior beliefs. Not always changing them, but certainly rethinking them.

    Both you and Evan have been in my classes, albeit not in the Intro to Hebrew Bible. What did you think of the general approach. Was it reasonably balanced and appropriate for a secular school?

    (Opening myself up with this one!)

  • Alan Murphy

    To hopefully alleviate your expressed concerns, I know from personal experience that you don’t want students to abandon their personal beliefs to enter your classes.

    To reply to your question: yes, your overall approach was definitely balanced and appropriate for a secular school. Indeed, it’s worth noting that you are much more tolerant toward certain types of strict religious belief, even in your secular setting, than are many seminary professors in their religious settings. In my experience, you were always fair to all of your students, regardless of what beliefs they may have held personally.

  • cbrady

    Thank you Alan. Maybe I was fishing, but I do appreciate hearing that this was your perception because I always worry about it. The reality is that I regularly get some students, Jewish and Christian, who are convinced that I am merely trying to be disrespectful and tear down their belief and/or traditions. At least it is usually people of various traditions who get upset so that shows I am balanced, nu? 🙂