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Seminar: What is Biblical Scholarship?


I have put together a syllabus for my upcoming Religion Senior Seminar at Furman, organized around the question: "What is biblical scholarship?" More precisely, what is "critical" and "academic" scholarship on the Bible? How and when did it develop, and how are contemporary questions and debates rooted in that intellectual history?

The syllabus is available at this page on I would love to hear your comments, questions, and suggestions as I prepare for and teach this seminar.

Bible Scholar

The readings begin just after the Reformation, and quickly move to the development of professional, academic, biblical study in the 18th-19th centuries. These readings describe the original goals and contexts of the biblical studies project, and provide a good foundation for understanding the various trajectories of contemporary scholarship. Now, the historical-critical paradigm has been thoroughly deconstructed; the academic study of the Bible has become (in many places) an interdisciplinary field of the humanities rather than a theological enterprise; and there has developed a basic rift between those who analyze the Bible critically and those who read/use/experience it in religious contexts. So, now, what is biblical scholarship?

One of my strategies in the class is to read with the students the material that I am reading myself anyway. That may sound like a shortcut, but it's not: this is an opportunity to learn from the seminar participants (they are very bright), and to model for students how a biblical scholar interacts with the history of our discipline as well as the current trends in metacriticism. Few if any of them will go on to become biblical scholars, so the larger purpose of the seminar is to help them develop the highest level of critical analysis, research, and writing skill at the undergraduate level.

I have decided to use a "points" system rather than traditional grading. There are many things for which they can receive points—achievements, if you will—including discussion, moderation, paper conferences, and paper drafts. If a student meets the standard for a particular assignment or activity, they earn the points—level up, if you will. If they submit work that does not meet the standard, they have one week to revise and resubmit in light of my comments.

The final research paper—the boss, if you will—represents 40% of the course grade, but is broken down into several components, each with its own points (bibliography, outline, draft, etc.). Hopefully this will teach them that one does not complete a major research project in one step. Their research will be evaluated on the integrity of the process as much as by the final product.

The points are as follows: