Academic Bible Scholars Turn against Religion

March 3, 2023 | Joshua Heavin
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For a long time, the field of biblical studies in Western universities sought to be open equally to believers and nonbelievers. At least in the U.S., something has changed, writes Joshua Heavin:

The Society of Biblical Literature and the American Academy of Religion are the two most prestigious and influential academic societies for the scholarly study of the Bible and religious studies in North America. On January 12, the leadership councils for both societies contacted their members to explain why the 2023 annual meeting will still take place in San Antonio, despite concerns “about the politics and policies of the state of Texas,” including abortion policies in the wake of Dobbs. The councils indicated that contractual obligations to hold the 2023 meeting in San Antonio had been entered into “almost a decade ago, before the laws were passed that are concerning to many of us,” and that relocating the meeting would be costly.

Such a statement from SBL’s leadership council was likely intended both to pacify the most progressive members of the academic society, and to alienate members with pro-life values, such as myself, let alone conservative Texans. In the moral imagination of this letter, pro-life men and women, or municipalities and states that protect the dignity of unborn human beings, are “inhospitable” to the Society’s values.

An alternative course might be to recognize that we are better off together, that scholarly research is enriched, rather than impoverished, by tolerating not only progressive perspectives at meetings held in progressive strongholds, but also those of people such as myself, a self-consciously traditional Christian, a theological interpreter of the Bible, and an evangelical Anglican at that, who values unborn life. Perhaps we might even share Texan food with one another at a Texan table. We might rediscover that hospitality, speaking the truth in love with one another, fosters a better academic society.

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