Biblical Studies in Liberal Arts 4

Kevin has a great post at Blue Cord

The college where I work is the only liberal arts college in Eastern Europe.  As such, we have to work hard to explain ourselves to potential students and the ministry of education.  Both are used to either professional schools (which is what kolegia means in Lithuanian) that prepare you for a particular job or universities that are research oriented.  As a liberal arts college, neither of these are our main goals.

This year, I am the head of a task force on defining what liberal arts means in this context.  In my understanding, a liberal arts education focuses on…

I encourage you to give your 2¢ on the topic; I have already given mine:

I have been working along parallel lines for a paper I will deliver at SBL I think you have hit on most of the high points; the question of my paper and the session is how do we teach biblical studies in a secular context. I would simply counter to any critic why do we teach any particular literature? Why do we teach any particular period of history and region?

I suppose that sounds a bit snarky, but the reality is (whether one likes it or not) that the Bible, its stories, morals/mores/ethic, and theology (not to mention politics) has formed the basis for most of Europe and countries we call “western” (although last time I checked a lot of countries that a “eastern” were pretty well impacted as well).

(Via Blue Cord.)


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4 thoughts on “Biblical Studies in Liberal Arts

  • Kevin A. Wilson

    Thanks for the comments. I have not gone through the SBL program this year, so I was not aware of this session. I have placed in on my calendar. I hope to see you there.

    One of the thoughts that came to mind when reading your thoughts on checking our biases at the door is the extent to which non-religious scholars do the same. Do they place on hold their conviction that the Bible is not the word of God? Granted, the position that the Bible is the word of God is not of the same character as a literary theory that can be tested, but if religious biases need to be left at the door (and I agree they do) then non-religious biases do too.

  • Stephen L. Cook

    Very interesting discussion! I wonder if another equally valid approach would be to create an atmosphere where parties acknowledged their traditions, suppositions, and biases upfront, and admitted that there was no way to completely check them at the door. Then, the goal would be to work toward mutual understandings, highest common denominators, and keeping each other honest. One problem would be that the professor has extra authority and power, giving her/him an unfair “advantage.” Still, there might be ways for the prof. to say, “This is how my Jewish- / Christian- / Humanist- / Australian- or Whatever-Worldview leads me to make meaning out of this text, but lets get this in conversation with other Lenses on this text. I want to learn from you…” What think ye? —SLC

  • Steve

    How very interesting. I was just going to point out that it is not possible to truly check your biases at the door, when I read that Stephen thinks (and writes) the same thing. One has to wonder that, if one convinces oneself that their biases are completely in check, are they not just introducing a sort of “meta bias” in which one finds oneself blind to the biases they are carrying, supposing themselves to be blessed with the rare ability to see things “as they really are.”

    It is this blindness to one’s own biases that perhaps lead to more conflict than anything else. Rather than acknowledge that our views are firmly grounded at the subconcious level in our biases we often assert that “our” views are the objective truth, and that those with opposing views are victims of their own biases.

    Anyway… office hours (and students!) call.


  • cbrady

    I can’t say I disagree with what anyone has posted so far. In fact, I hope that you all could see from my initial paper proposal and conversation with Alan (posted here) that I believe there is a, dare I say it, “balance” that can be achieved between acknowledging our biases and at the same time attempting to hold them in check long enough to give audience to differing views. In the proposal I phrase it this way:

    “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.”

    The “leaving behind” (“check at the door” was Alan’s phrase) was intended as a way to enable ourselves to explore other possibilities. For those who have not clicked over, here is my reply to Alan:

    “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.”

    Is this not an appropriate tension between acknowledging our biases (religions, critical, political, etc.), suspending them for the purpose of exploration, and then reexamining our own and others’ biases in light of new information?