BIBLE AND CRITICAL THEORY SEMINAR 2014

Deadline for proposals: 31 August 2014

The Seminar calls for papers at the intersection of critical theory and the Bible. We interpret “critical theory” broadly to include not only the seminal work of the Frankfurt School, but also approaches such as Marxism, post-Marxism, post-structuralism, feminism, queer studies, critical race theory, post-colonialism, human-animal studies, ideological criticism, Continental philosophy, psychoanalysis, ecocriticism, cultural materialism, new historicism, alternative economics, etc. Likewise, we interpret “the Bible” broadly, to include the various Jewish, Christian and Muslim scriptures and related ancient literature, including their history of reception, use, and effect.

Please send paper proposals of 150-200 words to:
Roland Boer: Roland.Boer(at)newcastle.edu.au and
Deane Galbraith: relegere.reviews(at)otago.ac.nz

Details:

Dates for Seminar: 10-11 December 2014

Venue: The Original Robert Burns Pub (“The Robbie”), 374 George Street, Dunedin, New Zealand
https://www.facebook.com/RobbieBurnsPub/photos

The Bible and Critical Theory Seminar returns to Dunedin in what is the tenth year of publication of the Bible and Critical Theory Journal and the seventeenth year in which the Seminar has been held. We will meet in the Poetry Corner at the Robbie Burns Pub, which we will have to ourselves until joined by regular patrons in the late afternoon. We will also make our way to Eric Repphun’s new venture, the Governor’s Cafe, for a delicious lunch.
Please also note that the BCT Seminar will follow the annual meeting of the Aotearoa-New Zealand Association of Biblical Studies (ANZABS), also to be held in Dunedin, at the University of Otago, on 8-9 December 2014.

Accommodation:

While there is no official accommodation and a range of options around the city, for those comrades who appreciate the conviviality of low-cost communal living, I (Deane) recommend Hogwartz Backpackers, a short ten-minute walk to the Seminar venue and, from 1872 until 1999, residence of the Roman Catholic bishop. Prices start from NZ$29 for a shared room with 4 to 6 beds, and it is approximately NZ$63 for a single room.

Master classes. Every where I look there seems to be one. There’s a growing trend by intellectuals with, um, largish egos, or indeed unhealthily high opinions of themselves, to announce that they will offer ‘master classes’. Forget seminars, lectures, papers, toilet chatter … now it’s a ‘master class’.

So I have decided to offer one of my own. It is to be called ‘The Matriarch’s Muff’ – a careful biblical analysis of certain terminology. The problem is that I am not quite sure when and where to unleash it. I had thought of the Bible and Critical Theory seminar, soon to happen in Auckland (1-2 September). But the presence of a few too many – how shall I say it – matriarchs suggested that may not be the best venue. I then pondered it for the University of Otago, down Dunedin way, a few days later. But the problem here is that there will be a significant number of, well, Presbyterian patriarchs present. This prompted the observation, ‘not even Dunedin is yet ready for the Matriarch’s Muff’.

So when and where do I unleash the matriarch’s muff?

Deviant Dunedin strikes again, that slightly strange place where everything is not quite what it seems to be and where signs say more than one might think. For instance, I suspect that this simple sign at the YHA (Stafford Gables)

… may actually be the ‘I was here’ signature of Annie Sprinkle, who happened to make a movie of the same name in 1976:

A small scuffle has broken out across the Tasman in the wake of the Bible and Critical Theory Seminar. Robert Myles, of the newly minted Jesus the Bum fame, has challenged The Dunedin School’s claim to be the ‘nerve centre’ of innovative biblical studies in Aotearoa.

The catch with these claims and counter-claims is that I am supposed to have uttered this phrase at some point or other. Yet no-one is quite clear on precisely when, where, and indeed if. For the Dunedin School ‘the attribution has never been clearly established’, while Jesus the Bum opines that I may have said it ‘in jest’, parenthetically observing that ‘ (mysteriously, of course, the original post can no longer be found)’.

If I may add some clarity to the discussion of sources and authorial intention, I did in fact let slip in an email message after the Auckland SBL that we would meet in Dunedin at some point soon since it is the nerve or perhaps nervous centre of scintillatingly original biblical studies in New Zealand. Appended to an email for the Bible and Critical Theory list, it prompted an immediate and lightly jocular reply from Elaine Wainwright concerning Auckland’s claim to the yellow jersey. Ever the diplomat, I of course replied to Elaine that Auckland too should be up for the count, although I did think to myself that Auckland had yet to show the goods. That appears to be changing and Dunedin may be about to meet its match.

What I do know is:

a) we have met in both Auckland (2008) and Dunedin (2010).

b) we are planning to meet in lumpy land every second year.

c) the question of where we will meet in 2012 is up for grabs.

Both for those who were there and – especially – for those who couldn’t make it but would love to have been there, a report to supplement that of The Dunedin School:

An upper room in a pub called The Bog in Dunedin – the setting couldn’t have been better for our first, full-blooded Bible and Critical Theory Seminar in New Zealand. Of late the seminar has gained a new lease of life, a buzz or a vibe that is hard to pin down, but one that makes us look forward to the next one like nerds to books. I suspect it is a mix of what happens both on the surface and – far more intriguingly – beneath the surface (more of that soon enough) – but also the blend of unconventional setting and conventional paper formats.

But – I sense one or two asking – was this really the first New Zealand meeting? Sure, we had a BCT stream at the International Society of Biblical Literature Meeting in Auckland back in 2008. But this was our first stand-alone gathering in that most southerly point of civilisation (which is really code for depravity) on the globe. It was about time too, since the kiwis have been making the Tasman crossing for well over a decade to join us in Australia – anywhere between Perth, Brisbane or Melbourne.

The setting for the seminar has always been a key factor – a pub with a decent space for us to spread out, relax, talk and listen. On this occasion, James Harding and Gillian Townsley had undertaken a painstaking search of Dunedin pubs to find one that: a) had a room for us (it was upstairs); b) charged no fee (as long as we drank and ate there); c) provided table service during the papers. Never, in the increasingly long history of the seminar, have we had such luxury. Picture, if you will, an afternoon paper being delivered while engrossed participants were served coffee, wine, beer and titbits on plates. High windows, soft Dunedin light, a full bar as the backdrop to papers, comfortable seats with tables on which we could spread out our Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, Coptic, and Ethiopic texts – as well as those irreplaceable scribble notes with which to pass messages to one another.

And who should come along for our thirteenth year (and probably sixteenth meeting … I’ve lost count), but a handful of Australians from across the ditch, two from the UK (one an expat kiwi returning for the love fest) and more than a score from all over Aotearoa.

Roland Boer kicked the show off with a study of the young Engels and his heart-rending struggles concerning the impact of (what was then new) biblical criticism on his very Reformed faith. Eric Repphun, resplendent in a vast tattooed web on his right elbow, drew upon the recent debate between Slavoj Žižek and John Milbank to offer a comparative reading of Scorcese’s Last Temptation of Christ and Gibson’s gore fest, The Passion of the Christ. Last before lunch (it was Sunday, the day after Waitangi Day) was John Barclay, enjoying the more human pace of life in southern NZ and offering a judicious reading of Badiou’s book on Paul – Barclay likes Badiou’s emphasis on a radical breakthrough in Paul but wishes Badiou would have made more of the crucifixion punch.

Lunch done (from an Irish-inspired menu that had British colonialism written all over it), we encountered the full frontal of four challenging papers: Christina Petterson introduced us to two key figures, Christina von Braun and Gitte Buch-Hansen, to offer a thought-provoking reread of John’s gospel; Robert Myles (who has since launched a challenge to Dunedin’s eminent innovative status) showed us how Jesus’ call in Mark 1 to become ‘fishers of men’ has a decidedly queer dimension to it, so much so that ‘to fish’ in the gospels may also mean ‘to cruise’ (or at least that is how I read it); Holly Randell-Moon offered a careful analysis of the way different models of Christian nationalism (conservative under Howard or progressive under Rudd) in Australia fail to come to grips with the real nature of neo-liberalism; and Remy Low (a school teacher, PhD student and revolutionary) challenged us to read a tough text like 1 Peter 2 (on slaves) as a survival mechanism in oppressive times in order to nurture the seed of insurrection for an opportune moment.

More than a head full of ideas, but already the sparks were flowing, plots were being hatched, acquaintances made, looks met and matched, but it was time to unwind, drink the bog’s grog and eat its food.

Day two saw Judith McKinlay start us off with a ‘McKinlayic’ reading: a multi-logue between Judith herself, the daughters of Zelophehad and Edward Gibbon Wakefield – questioning, undermining, exploring the social and cultural memories of both ourselves and ancient Israel. Judith now has the impressive record of having been to most BCT seminars (apart from me), having first attended in 1999 when we met in an abandoned church out the back of Sydney. And she was instrumental in introducing others from NZ to the seminar, so much so that the BCT is inconceivable without Tasman comradeship. From there Majella Franzmann introduced us to SPAFF – the Specific Affect Coding System, a method to quantitatively measure whining, joy, contempt and affection – in order to interpret the Gnostic James and Gospel of Judas. Elaine Wainwright took us on a detailed eco-spatial reading of Matthew 3-4 where we encounter, among others, John the Immerser (or, as I prefer, the Amphibian). Yael Klangwisan offered a poetic reading of the Song of Songs, modelling her approach on that of Luce Irigaray, and Kirsten Dawson reread Job (via Žižek’s subjective, symbolic and systemic violence) as a wealthy landowner guilty of a good deal of systemic violence on his own part. And as a fitting nightcap, James Harding treated us to his unfolding study of David and Jonathan, now with the assistance of Jonathan Culler and Umberto Eco. What happens, he asked, when scholars try to have the last word in interpretation by invoking a closed text like the canon? Nothing less than an explosion of meaning.

This was the BCT at its best, with currents of biblical criticism, cultural studies, political theory, feminism, ecocriticism, Marxism, film studies, philosophy and much more all coming together in a provocative and fruitful mix. It did of course help that we weren’t in some anaemic lecture hall or drab university seminar room. For one thing, the periphery refused to remain discreet. So the papers were delivered while plates of steaming food passing by behind us from the kitchen (it was upstairs too), the crowd downstairs watching an American football game continually raised a thundering cheer at crucial moments during at least one paper (James Harding’s), and at one point a squad of mature women appeared wearing pink T-shirts with ‘Tutus on Tour’ emblazoned across their busts.

But what I, for one, enjoy just as much is what runs just beneath the surface. Did those glances signal the spark of something more substantial? Is he/she really available? What was in those bottles smuggled in by one attendee (for which he was busted)? Did someone really ask another for some of his drugs-to-make-long-flights-seem-like-love-ins? And do photographs of scholars on a trampoline really offer the most flattering perspective? More substantially, stories were told of previous highs (especially the Passover lamb) and (deep) lows at earlier seminars, evil and arrogant professors were condemned, generous ones praised, neo-orthodoxy (especially Karl Barth) was scoffed at, and plots were elaborated regarding parasite universities that would provide work for the immense talent currently denied opportunities by universities in crisis. In short, creative and lateral ideas aplenty.

Finally, I couldn’t help noticing that many of those present were postgraduate students working on some very fascinating material, all of which left me with the impression that if this is representative of the next wave of biblical scholars in New Zealand, then things are looking up.

An uncanny town, this one. Go past an alley one day and it is gone by the next, the houses closing up as though nothing had happened. An aberrant street, turning up here and there unpredictably. These Scottish heirs can give you the evil eye, ear or elbow and the rest of your day will seem disjointed. After a while you get the feeling that the town is not quite here, slipping into another zone, with a few crucial pieces missing. As with the churches …

By the second morning we were looking more and more like DaVinci’s Last Supper – with a Dunedin twist:

I challenge anyone to come up with a better backdrop to a biblical studies paper than this one. Here’s Judith McKinlay framed by a full bar:

As is Elaine Wainwright, obviously pleased by the prospect, or her paper (which was great) or both:

However, in the midst of all this intense study of the sources and reports (here, here and here) – note the careful attention to original texts – we were able to produce at least three breakthroughs:

1. After Robert Myles’s paper, we realised that the Greek term for ‘fishing’ should include a lexical entry under ‘cruising’ (in Mark 1:16-20). After all, what does ‘fishing for men’ mean but cruising?

2. After Elaine Wainwright’s paper a further lexical discovery was made. Not only is John known as ‘the baptiser’ or indeed ‘the immerser’, but he should also be known as John the Amphibian.

3. After desperately searching for the title for a paper on prophetic masculinity I need to present later this year, I drew on a range of great minds to come up with: ‘Too Many Dicks on the Threshing Floor, or, How to Organise a Prophetic Sausage Fest’.

Despite having a hand in the third insight, the two anchors of the Dunedin School were hard to please:

But James Harding (who rounded everything out with a scintillating discussion of David and Jonathan) was much more taken with them: