After many years absence (last here in 2002), the Bible and Critical Theory Seminar is returning to Brisbane in November, on the weekend of 5-6 November to be precise. It's being held at the Boundary Hotel in West End. We'll be kicking off both days at 10, when the pub opens; Saturday will be the longer day but we hope to finish earlier on Sunday to relax a little eating and drinking and taking in the music during the afternoon. The plan is also for us all to meet earlier for coffee, before the pub opens, at one of the many adjacent coffee shops West End is famous for, most probably at Cup, which is across the road and around the corner from the pub in Russell St.
The seminar itself will be held in a room upstairs in the pub just off the upstairs beer garden. The room is where people usually play pool and the pool table will likely be covered over for us to sit around. All up, there's 13 papers being presented by folks from around Australia and New Zealand. As usual, it's a very diverse selection of papers too. Below is the programme for the seminar with details of the papers to tempt your thought buds
All formal sessions will be held in a room on the second floor of the Boundary Hotel.
Saturday Nov. 5
9:15 Preliminary informal meeting for coffee most probably at Cup, which is across the road and around the corner from the pub in Russell St.
10:00-10:20 Opening session in room off the second floor beer garden of the Boundary Hotel
10:20 – 11:00 Caroline Blyth
‘I am alone with my sickness’: Voicing the experience of HIV-related stigma through Psalm 88
Sometimes referred to as a ‘sickness lament’, Psalm 88 gives a particularly dark and despairing voice to suffering through illness and powerfully evokes the hopelessness and loneliness that have invaded the lamenter’s relationship with the world around him and with his God. One of the features of the psalmist’s experience of illness given voice in this lament is that of social isolation and abandonment by friends and companions. Using insights from both cultural and psychological theories of stigma and disease, I wish to explore this feature of the psalm through the contextual lens of social stigma and discrimination experienced by people living with HIV and AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa. The lamenter’s voice may thus speak alongside those living with HIV and AIDS, his words reflecting their experiences of social distress and rejection, while their own voices offer new considerations of the experience of suffering within this psalm.
The Roman Army as a Total Institution and the Implications for Gospel Interpretation
When the Roman historian, Tacitus, lamented the decline in the cohesiveness of newly established Roman colonies, his point of comparison was the Roman legion: ordered, lacking the habit of marrying and rearing families, marked by unanimity and mutual regard (consensus et caritate). In effect, they were so committed to the interests of the body of which they were members that they could be called a res publica (Tacitus, Annals 14.27). Regardless of the particular interests driving Tacitus’ presentation, this image of the closed unit, “the Roman legion”, invites the application of the sociological theories of Erving Goffman on “total institutions”. Nigel Pollard has ventured just such a theoretical application for an understanding of the Roman army. This paper seeks to explore this interface further in application to the encounter between Jesus and the centurion in Q (Lk 7:1-10 // Mt 8:5-13).
11:40-12:00 Remy Low
How not to be ‘left behind’: Neo-liberal governance of religious discourse in the case of neo-Calvinist schooling
Much controversy has been generated in recent years surrounding the new visibility of religious movements and institutions in avowedly liberal, secular societies. Public discourse around this broad issue is often divided between simplistic 'pro' and 'anti' polarities, with more nuanced scholars and commentators arguing for some form of manageable compromise between competing demands of religion and secularity. Despite the words and passions expended, however, the very terrain of this debate has remained unquestioned; that is, the a particular configuration of liberal-capitalism that has come to be described as 'neo-liberalism'. In this paper, I shall critically examine the discursive logics of the latter in the case of neo-Calvinist schooling, elucidating how local religious discourses are regulated through specific “governmental technologies” (Foucault, 1988: 19) and articulated within the broader regime of neo-liberal hegemony.
12:00-12:40 Ed Conrad
Hey, Ezekiel, my (son of) man, Do you mean what I see?
In this paper I focus on the phrase, מַרְאוֹת אֱלֹהִים, which occurs only in the book of Ezekiel (1:1; 8:3; 40:2; see also 40:3). The usual English translations render it as “visions of God” and interpret Ezekiel 1:4-28 as a description of a “vision of God” that Ezekiel sees. While God does appear to Ezekiel in these verses, my alternative reading sees them as a depiction of God’s vision – what God sees. Ezekiel beholds an “El-mobile” with eyes darting around with great speed moving in all directions and enabling God to view the world with commensurate ease. My reading highlights the significance of the recurring use of “eye” (עַיִן) and “eyes” (עֵינַיִם) in 1:4-28, routinely overlooked by commentators. When Ezekiel says that he sees מַרְאוֹת אֱלֹהִים, his claim is that he sees God’s visions; he sees what God sees. This accounts for Ezekiel’s capacity to see what is happening in the temple in Jerusalem while resident in Babylon, something that has routinely troubled traditional critical scholarship.
2:00-240 Sean Durbin
Walking in the Mantle of Esther: Christian Zionists’ political action as biblical typology in the history of the future
One of the aims of traditional biblical criticism is to determine a text’s situational nature, origins, intended audience and why and how particular texts were written. Among those who use the Bible as a source to guide daily living or political action, none are more often demonized than biblical fundamentalists who are often construed as fools, reading a text “literally” in a way unintended by the original authors. Accordingly, biblical criticism is seen by some as a way to convince such literalists of their “erroneous” reading of the text. Although such an approach is useful, it is also worth trying to understand how so-called literalists interpret biblical texts, which I argue is far more complex than a simple “literal” reading. Drawing on literary theorists like Roland Barthes and Robert Alter, this paper gives a critical account of the use of scripture as a living text, which fundamentalists interpret as a guide, to be typologically reenacted in the present as part of God’s plans for them and the redemption of the world. Specifically, in this paper I discuss American Christian Zionists’ interpretation of the Book of Esther and its emphasis on themes of Jewish deliverance, and human instrumentality. Drawing on these themes, I show how Christian Zionists understand the Book of Esther not simply as an allegorical text, but as a framework for their political action to be typologically reenacted by them today, as actors in sacred history. An essential component of this political work is the belief that the world is rapidly approaching the end of the Church Age, when Satan will make one final push to destroy God’s chosen people, Israel. In accordance with this known future, I argue that Christian Zionists understand themselves as God’s agents, like Esther, protecting His chosen people, thus allowing His plans to establish His millennial kingdom in Jerusalem to proceed unimpeded. As a result of this interpretation, and its apocalyptic thrust, I want to draw attention to the fact that while historical criticism emphasizes the situational nature of the original authors of a given biblical text, it is also essential to understand the “situational nature” of the community reading that text.
2:40-3:20 Anne Elvey
Rethinking Neighbour Love as a Critical Intervention in Ecocide
This paper brings together an ecological reading of Luke 10:25-37 with some contemporary critical theory on neighbour love. First, it describes and evokes the necessary more-than-human kinship that underlies any act of neighbour love, so that neighbour love occurs within a more-than-human community of action. Second, while noting that a simple way of considering neighbour love in a more-than-human context is to extend human love for the human neighbour to our more-than-human neighbours, this paper goes further. It draws on Eric Santner's theory of neighbour love as intervening in destructive inter-human modes of relating, both personal and political (Santner, On Creaturely Life). Then, in the context of a Lukan portrayal of a dynamic of compassion, the paper considers neighbour love as a critical intervention in destructive modes of interrelatedness, with implications for human response to ecocide.
3:20-4:00 Karl Hand
Document L as a thought experiment in source-critical epistemology
Among the methods of biblical studies, and of all the humanities, source critical methods stand on the fault-line between many absolute dichotomies such as quality and quantity, subject and object, text and context. A critical reflection on source criticism therefore has much to tell us about these epistemological and ontological categories. What ontological status, for instance, should a postulated object like document Q be granted? Is it an object of study, or a postulation of the knowing subject reading Matthew/Luke? Is it part of the text of Matthew/Luke or the context? And is it verified by subjective or objective, qualitative or quantitative criteria? These questions have haunted the recent renaissance of source criticism during the ‘third quest’ for the historical Jesus
This paper addresses these issues by presenting a rigorous methodological postulation of a ‘Document L’. L was almost completely ignored during the third quest, perhaps due to the absence of any control text (like Matthew) with which to compare the text of Luke. However, this lack of control makes L a fascinating study in how a document can validated if the lines of traditional science are transgressed, allowing subjective and qualitative criteria to infiltrate the method.
This process is clarified by analogy to Archimedes’ formulation of an ‘exhaustion method’ to postulate the quantity of the numeral pi by setting maximal and minimal limits to the numeral, and then narrowing the gap. Applied to L, an exhaustion method may set a maximal limit by the elimination of material known to belong to other sources, and then chip away at a minimal limit by structural analysis, stylometry, and the study of hapax legomena. The result of this method is a critically testable Document, which I argue should be added to the canon of hypothetical gospel sources.
4:00-4:40 Julie Kelso
Irigaray’s complex reading of the Annunciation and the virginity of Mary has generated a lot of discussion in feminist theology and feminist philosophy of religion. Notably, according to the philosopher Pamela Anderson, Irigaray and the feminist (Catholic) theologians who have embraced her readings of Mary are in danger of replicating the “ethically debilitating forms of transcendence-in-immanence that Simone de Beauvoir successfully uncovers in the immanence of the female narcissist, lover, and mystic”. In this paper I argue that in order to appreciate Irigaray’s recent thinking concerning the Madonna it is necessary to come to grips with what she is trying to establish with respect to the concept of virginity. It is important to remember that, historically, this concept has been reviled by feminists as the reduction of women to exchangeable commodities within markets controlled and utilised by men, and also revered as a refusal by certain women to assume their passive stance as mother and wife within patriarchal social orders. Irigaray is well aware of this contradiction and, I think, is attempting to think the future possibilities of ethical subjectivity for women by returning to the very figure of this contradiction – the virgin mother – with her virginity understood not as integritas but as sanctitas.
Sunday Nov 6
9:15 Preliminary informal meeting for coffee most probably at Cup, which is across the road and around the corner from the pub in Russell St.
10:00-10:10 Opening preliminary session
10:10-10:50 Michael Carden
Heavenly Ascents in Hellas and Israel: or What's a Classic Gay Icon Doing on the Doors of St Peters
The paper takes as its starting point the continuities and inter-relatedness of ancient 'pagan' and biblical religions. It will examine the most famous heavenly ascent and apotheosis of the ancient 'pagan' world, the abduction of Ganymede by Zeus. The paper will examine the story of Ganymede and evidence for a Bronze Age background to the Ganymede story in context of a dual gendered cult of male and female Zeus and Ganymede forming a divine tetrad. It will then examine parallel divine tetrads in West Semitic religion before addressing heavenly ascents in biblical religion, which is regarded as one form of West Semitic religion. Philo of Alexandria used the figure of Ganymede on several occasions to illustrate the role of the Logos in the divine economy and the paper will discuss some ramifications of that in relation to both the figure of Enoch, the biblical figure most like Ganymede, and the messianic gestalt around Jesus of Nazareth and the possible homo-erotics invested in it.
10:50-11:30 Robert Myles
Jesus the Bum? Probing the Homelessness of Jesus in Matthew 8:18-22
Many interpreters proof-text Mt 8:20 ("And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.") as a demonstration of Jesus' supposed homelessness. A number of commentators, however, point out that the Jesus of Matthew's gospel cannot possibly be "homeless" because he is connected to a house at various points in the gospel (a detail unique to Mt, cf. 4:12; 9:10, 28; 12:46; 13:1, 36; 17:25). This paper examines the dispute in light of the old adage "a house is not a home." It does so by re-reading Mt 8:18-22 with a more nuanced and multidimentional understanding of homelessness, one informed by various theoretical perspectives on home and place, as the issue protrudes behind, within, and in front of the text. While Mt 8:18-22 illustrates the cost of discipleship, it also readily employs metaphors of animals and death to provide narrative amplification for Jesus' characterization as an itinerant and marginal figure.
11:30-12:10 Tamara Prosic
Russian revolution and “sobornost”
Towards the end of 1917 a great part of Europe was in a revolutionary mood, but the only country in which that mood turned into successful action was Russia. Many Marxists, then and today, has regarded the October revolution as an anomaly. Anomaly or not the fact remains that other European revolutions fizzled out while the Russian persevered through years of civil war. The majority of discussions trying to explain this anomalous revolution revolve around the economic and political conditions in Russia at the time, the so-called objective factors, while neglecting the role of elements or the superstructure, the so-called subjective factors, which can either help or hinder revolutions. Religions are certainly one of such elements and the paper looks at the Orthodox Church views and ideas about “sobor” and “sobornost” which roughly translate into English as “council” and “conciliarism” might have indirectly contributed to the success of the Russian revolution.
12:10-12:50 Holly Randell-Moon
Secular Critique, Religion and Cultural Studies
In the last decade, religious issues have emerged as intense sites of conflict in media and political discourse in western liberal democratic countries. With its focus on issues of representation, power and discourse, cultural studies is well placed to engage with religion’s influence on media, political and cultural communication. However, religion’s influence on everyday life has largely escaped the disciplinary attention of cultural studies. In this paper, I explore how specific kinds of theoretical and methodological assumptions govern the types of knowledge produced and analysed within cultural studies and how these knowledge practices in turn work to marginalise religion within the discipline. Cultural studies is implicated in the secular epistemological orientation of academic critique even as it contests some of its fundamental humanist assumptions. As result, there are specific cultural, political and corporeal economies that condition intellectual engagements with the secular and religious in certain ways. Any engagement with religion therefore requires a concomitant engagement with the cultural and institutional operation of secularism. Typically, secularism is understood to separate religion from politics, legally or constitutionally, thus rendering religion a matter of private belief and individual choice. Such an understanding has been challenged by a number of scholars (such as Asad , Taylor , Mahmood  and Masuzawa ) who argue that secularism produces particular understandings of religion. Drawing on these critiques, this paper argues that it is not tenable to exclude religion from cultural studies’ theoretical and disciplinary paradigms. In order to include religion within the purview of cultural studies’ disciplinary concerns, the secular constitution of knowledge practices, and our complicity in reproducing these practices as scholars, must be opened up to critical interrogation.
12:50-1:30 Timothy Stanley
Job: A Serious Man
A Serious Man cinematically deconstructs the life of a mid-twentieth century, mid-western American everyman named Larry Gopnik. As it happens, Larry is a physics professor up for tenure with a wife who is about to leave him, an unemployed brother who sleeps on his couch, and two self-obsessed teenage children. The film presents the question of good and evil and the threat of real and more severe suffering from an un-named God, reverently referred to as Hashem. And here is one of the more interesting aspects of the film: it is a study in Jewish thought and diaspora culture, which takes Job, not Moses or Abraham, as its quintessential figure. This opens up two points of reflection which will orient what follows in this paper: 1) the way in which a Job-like theodicy manifests itself in this film as a key example of philosophical theology meets quantum theory in western popular culture; and, 2) the coinherence between the film’s interpretation of Job and that of the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek.
1:30-2:00 Closing Comments