Roland offers his readers a glimpse at the vagaries of stagnancy within the Academe, but also a deeper look into what it means to seek change from such an institution. While I am, perhaps naively, under the impression that change can and will happen (not necessarily that I could change it), I find Roland’s analysis of SBL to be dead-on. Indeed, I would say out of the many scholarly organizations, SBL might just be the most conservative wing (but only because BAR is not an academic institution, even if Shanks wants it to be). But even still, SBL has published some of the leading volumes which, if anything else, have challenged long-held conservative presuppositions. So, while change may be slow to come (if it comes at all), where there are people, the construct of “needing change” is an irrelevancy. In truth, scholars will continue to work together (conservative or liberal–terms I actually despise) and will continue to hate each other, ignore each other, and use each other. Like any institution it has its good and bad; the community rallied behind Roland’s right to keep his title, even though many might find the content depraved or irrelevant. And likely out of those who supported Roland, there will be some who will write a paper against it in the future. But what matters, in the end, is that one recognize this process from the start. Unlike what many of my mythicist detractors have been saying, the stagnancy in the Academe has nothing to do with its flippant dismissal of new ideas (though,quite a few scholars within the Academe could be accused of this); the stagnancy is found, rather, with its politics, its “phallo-centric” mentality (as Roland puts it), its smaller organizations, and so forth. But within this stagnancy is also its longevity, its tone of critical inclusion–even at its own expense at times (i.e. Roland’s new volume of essays, or a book by Hector Avalos, or a minimalist paper against maximalism, what have you). These must be weighed together with the backstabbing, the academic political games, the conservative religious trends at odds with the progressive ones.
Why? Aren’t you a Marxist, a revolutionary? Don’t you want to bring about change?
My response: I am not a reformer, wanting to bring about change from within. Too many bitter people spend their time in retirement cursing those with whom they worked, the institution they served with such faithfulness, the hopes they held for change. I think of the feminist biblical scholar who retired early on a tide of ill-will, leaving a phallo-centric system as entrenched as ever. Or of an old minister who was once my boss, wondering whether all he had done was useless since the church had since gone precisely in the direction he hoped it wouldn’t. I pointed out to my interlocutor that I have been in both church and university: both institutions expect commitment and devotion to a vocation; both will spit you out and trample on you at a moment’s notice without any concern for your own wellbeing.
So also the SBL, which behaves very much like a church – probably because most of its members belong to or have belonged to a church. Witness the increasing debate concerning a perceived conservative takeover, the crude and cruder arguments about critical or faith-based scholarship – they are simply the old ecclesial struggles between ‘liberals’ and ‘conservatives’ transposed into the SBL. For that reason they do not interest me….Read More