November 08, 2004

Biblical literature in the curriculum (#52)

I urge the strengthening of the biblical literature component in our current curriculum or any new curriculum arrangement being considered. I believe we should have a separate, distinct course required of all students, that would engage bibical texts in a serious academic fashion. My reasons are as follows:

  1. Cultural need for basic biblical literacy—The Bible is THE most important text (collection of texts) in the western tradition. I would assume that any educated individual in the Islamic world would be conversant with the Koran. There are similar pivotal texts in other cultures. We should not side step this opportunity to lead our students through a mature, challenging, and academic experience with this text which is so basic to our culture.
  2. The Bible is the text most often handled by our students.—Taken as a whole, our students have, and will have, more contact with biblical texts than any other single literary document. They need to be introduced to an academic approach to these documents. It is my assumption that such an experience will broaden and deepen their appreciation of how these texts came into being. That in turn should assist them in identifying ways in which these texts are misused. I can think of few endeavors more important for an academic community.
  3. Ethical education: To argue that we at Furman are concerned about values and to then fail to engage with the most significant ethical texts in our cultural heritage seems quite odd.
  4. Contemporary relevance: The Bible, or interpretations of biblical texts, must have been the most consistently referenced ideas during the recent national political campaign. I see no reason to think that this will cease to be the case in the foreseeable future—a future for which we claim we are preparing our students. For this reason alone, this would seem to call for our preferencing this text in our construction of Furman’ curriculum. Furman needs to be engaged with contemporary American culture—particularly the cultural conversations fueled by ideas. The Bible is at the center of those conversations. We must not abdicate our responsibility to be involved.
  5. Furman’s heritage: Edmund Burke’s admonition that we should form a “bridge with the past” is advice we should consider carefully. Furman has played a serious role in biblical education over the years. We split from the South Carolina Baptist Convention in order to protect our Religion Department and its academic approach to biblical education. It was this very aspect of our educational program that was most at risk. It would be quite ironic if that break, made to protect the serious academic integrity of biblical study in our community, would now cease to be considered a relevant part of Furman’s educational mission.
Posted by love at November 8, 2004 03:20 PM
Discuss this proposal in the forum, or leave a comment below!

I am not quite sure I agree with this proposal. Point 1) seems to suggest that students do not know the Bible (need for basic biblical literacy), whereas point 2) suggests that students are most familiar with it (the text most often handled by our students)?
The bigger problem with many of our students, as I perceive it, is their ignorance of religions other than some type of Protestant Christianity. Max Mueller's observation that those who only know one religion know none very much applies to our students.
Instead of more exposure to Biblical literature, which potentially could reify in students' minds "westocentric" notions of religion, a religion GER (if we are to keep one in the curriculum-) in my view aught to challenge such thinking, and expose students to non-Christian religions. I would argue that a comparative course that studies different religions of the world, including Christianity, would do a much better job to address ethical issues. Likewise, such a course would be relevant to contemporary concerns, and also speak to Furman's statement of mission and scope, according to which Furman "aspires to be a divers community ... of different races, religions ...."
Finally, if we are to retain a Religion requirement, it might be best to leave the decision as to the precise nature of the course to the Religion Department.

Alfons Teipen

Posted by: Alfons Teipen at November 11, 2004 03:29 PM