Saturday, December 1, 2012

My Interview with Taede Smedes

I did a little interview with Dutch friend and colleague Taede Smedes a few weeks back. Here is the link.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The 'Old-fashioned' lecture

Listening to experts in pedagogy, student services and university curricula for the past few years has given me the impression that most people think the idea of old-fashioned lectures from professors is just that: old-fashioned, stodgy, stale, yada yada. I've never quite believed the mantras associated with this popular belief, which tend to go hand in glove with moves to ramp up distance education courses which - although they often include taped lectures - do not by their nature involve participation in a face to face encounter with a live person who lectures. And I've always thought that there is inherent value in such face to face encounters: in hearing a professor explain points on the fly; engaging (whether sympathetically or skeptically or both) with students; watching and evaluating how a professor thinks though things, maybe with notes or slides as back up, sure, but always with that adventurous aspect of the 'on the fly'.

Well. This story made my week. No, it made my month. A research study conducted here in Quebec and headed by a colleague here at Concordia confirms the secret that I thought might never see the light of day. Wait for it: Students Like (Good) Lectures. GASP!!

Here's the eyebrow-raising part of a story on the study, near the end:

The surprising results showed that students were more appreciative of the literally “old-school” approach of lectures and were less enthusiastic than teachers about using ICTs in classes. Instructors were more fluent with the use of emails than with social media, while the opposite was true for students.

“Our analysis showed that teachers think that their students feel more positive about their classroom learning experience if there are more interactive, discussion-oriented activities. In reality, engaging and stimulating lectures, regardless of how technologies are used, are what really predict students’ appreciation of a given university course,” says Fusaro.
Amazing. Spread the news: gadgets, videos, convoluted, multi-faceted discussion rubrics. All might be useful in certain contexts.... But nothing can replace the old-fashioned lecture for providing the base of a high quality university education.

And, as for the value of good lectures and the person-to-person element of a university education, see this excellent piece from a few weeks ago by U of T professor Orwin: There's no substitute for a real university classroom.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The 'Other Jesus' Industry

One of the strangest things about the latest Jesus controversy (Harvard's Karen King claiming to have in her possession a fragment of a 4th. century text referring to Jesus' wife) is that it did not coincide with either Christmas or Easter. That is, what usually happens with these kinds of things is that some purported 'discovery' just happens to coincide with Time magazine's deadline for its pre-Christmas or pre-Easter issues.

Not this time: the timeline was foisted on us by an academic conference, at which King made her 'discovery' known. The question people are now asking is: did she have any idea how negative the coverage and scepticism would become? Did she know what on earth she was setting herself up for? Not that such scepticism is undeserved.... far from it. The initial comments by King, while circumspect, were clearly designed to entice the public into wanting to see and hear more about this new angle on Jesus.  And, this was when things began to fall apart - more quickly than they usually do.

So, where we stand now is that we're probably dealing with the latest in a long line of fake Jesus stories, which as James Hannam implies, in a nice context piece, is frankly sad. Sad in the sense that people have a lot of expectations about what Jesus means - very much their own (uninformed) expectations, that is. And the western media are all too happy to oblige those expectations, rather than do anything else that might appear stodgy, traditional, not to mention academically sound.

This is additionally weird, because so much of the soundest scholarship these days has to do with the Jewish identity of Jesus, about which the popular media tends to shrug. At least, *if you're looking for* a Jesus who doesn't quite fit the parameters set by the Christian creed, why not write something that picks up on the work of E.P Sanders, Paula Fredrickson, Richard Horsley, Pinchas Lapide, Brad Young, Sean Freyne or Jacob Neusner --- and that's just for starters.  

As for the specifics of this latest Jesus outburst, a real NT scholar (as opposed to a scholar of the ancient world / ancient texts of various sorts), Craig Evans, has posted his summary ruminations on facebook, as follows: 

Is the Coptic papyrus, in which Jesus speaks of his “wife,” a fake? Probably. We are far from a “consensus,” but one scholar after another and one Coptologist after another has weighed in pointing out serious problems with the paleography,
the syntax, and the very troubling fact that almost all of the text has been extracted from the Gospel of Thomas (principally from logia 30, 101, and 114). I suspect the papyrus itself is probably quite old, perhaps fourth or fifth century, but the oddly written (or painted) letters on the recto side are probably modern and probably reflect recent popular interest in Jesus and Mary Magdalene. The decision of the editors of Harvard Theological Review not to publish Professor Karen King’s paper is very wise. Perhaps we will eventually learn more about who actually produced this text.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

It's Not about that video

solid analysis from the always solid Ross Douthat at the NYT regarding recent events in the Mideast.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Robert Wright: Creationism and Evolution, the Saga continues

Over at his indispensable Atlantic Monthly blog, Robert Wright reads the tea leaves of latest U.S. polling numbers on creationism and evolution. His analysis, as usual, is pinpoint accurate.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Hope and Long term prosperity in Greece

You think I like to be bull-headed coming up with such headlines, I know. But, actually, there is cause for hope because young Greeks - in significant numbers - are returning to the countryside to take up sustainable living and agriculture in ways their grandparents practiced. Says so here in this Reuters story. In the long term, with shifts like this one, there is a much greater chance for Greek culture and the Greek economy to prosper, where prosperity is defined in real terms - prosperity being ultimately rooted in ancient practices and closer to a social and environmental homeostasis. No more exponential growth in Athens, where pollution is among Europe's worst.

But in the short term: going home to the village has to look like misery. This shift back to the country is compelled rather than compelling. But economic emergencies such as Greece's are like other crises: black clouds with silver linings. Moving home is humiliating and impoverished in the short term, but potentially beneficial in the long term. And Greece, like the rest of Europe, desperately needs some long term thinking.

Especially in agriculture and crafts, small economic players working together in bartering and small-scale economic trading relationships is the kind of economic ecosystem that is a much more stable basis for a country's genuine long-term prosperity. This thinking is not mine, but emanates from a number of people who populate the traditional green end of the political spectrum (as opposed to top-down statist green politics), and most recently by a reading of this excellent book by Roger Scruton, about which I am writing a review. More on that review later...

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

My book on theological method is out in the UK. More news later!

Friday, May 11, 2012

*Theological* Religious Studies in the University: Curricular Heresy

This is an abstract for a forthcoming chapter in a book to be published by the University of Toronto Press on the subject of religious pluralism in Canada:

Curricular Heresy: Theological Religious Studies and the Assessment of Religious Pluralism in Canada

             In the West today multiculturalism and the implied equality of religions have been called into question. Although Religious Studies has offered much in the way of a ‘thick description’ of religion, this chapter argues that the current political context requires a deep assessment of religion and religious pluralism; one that requires a complementary theological approach. I call this approach 'theological religious studies'. Although some see theology as biased, this chapter contends that it provides a source of public knowledge about traditions, beliefs and practices. In theological colleges and seminaries, which are the mainstays of theological literacy, explicit theologies of religious pluralism are more noticeable. This chapter argues that because of their role in shaping polity and culture, Canadian universities should play a lead role in the development of theological religious studies. There is a concern that a social sciences approach, without a complementary humanistic theological inquiry, will lead to management goals that are not sympathetic to understanding the plausibility structures of religious belief.  Theology, due to its humanities perspective, can foster our ability to imagine ourselves in the place of others and also imagine religious heritage in different contexts, and is thus essential to this project. This chapter reflects on several examples of the ways in which Theology and Religious Studies are developing in western universities.  It also suggests that a Theology of world religions speaks to the complexities of internal religious diversity and the relationships between traditions. Finally, because of the humanities’ role in understanding meaning, this chapter points to the legitimacy of open discussion of belief in the university and beyond.

Monday, April 16, 2012

On the oikonomia

Peter Leithart quotes from a recent book on the stunning success of S. Korea, economically speaking. It seems to utterly contradict what conservative (= neo-liberal) doctrine on what makes for a 'good' economy. There's a hundred conversations that this kind of observation about economic history can prompt. 

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Benedict XVI and the Covenant with Israel

Here is an excerpt from a talk I gave recently at McGill University's Newman Centre:

In a 2009 lecture entitled ‘Pope Benedict XVI on Jews and Judaism: Retreat or Reaffirmation’, John Pawlikowski, a scholar of Jewish-Catholic relations,  concluded that while Benedict is 

(2)“profoundly sensitive to the horrors of the Holocaust [he] lacks an adequate grasp of Christian complicity in its execution…On the theological level, while pledging continued support of [sic] the teachings of Vatican II and of his predecessor John Paul II, Pope Benedict has not contributed anything constructive to the continued development of a new theological understanding of the Church’s relationship with the Jewish people.”[1]

I take Pawlikowski’s conclusion to constitute a serious charge, and I want to share with you a few observations from my reading of Benedict’s theological scholarship that contradict this pessimistic assessment. In short, I claim that Benedict’s regard for the house of Israel and the Jewish people is new because he wants the Bible, read first of all in light of Christian doctrine, to purge the church of anti-Judaism and therefore, anti-semitism. Scripture and tradition are the church’s means for striving for a proper relationship with the Jewish people. A false irenicism would certainly be a poor substitute. So, Benedict understands the value of the former in order to counter the tendency to promote the latter.

The church’s appreciation for the Jewish people emerges from an understanding of the covenant... Covenant and revelation are categories woven into the fabric of Benedict’s biblical theology... 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Tuition fees and access to university

Stephen Gordon in the Globe and Mail discusses some research on the link (or lack thereof) between fees and the decision to go to university. Enlightening reading, if counterintuitive.