Mythicism and the Mainstream: The Rhetoric and Realities of Academic Freedom

The rhetoric of concern for academic freedom becomes prominent at different times and in different situations – for instance, when a scholar at an Evangelical institution is fired for adopting a viewpoint that reflects the consensus of mainstream scholarship, but also when a proponent of a fringe view like Jesus mythicism has difficulty finding a publisher. This paper will explore the use and misuse of appeals to academic freedom, focusing particular attention on the phenomenon of Jesus mythicism, and the particular case of Thomas Brodie as described in his recent memoir, Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus. On the one hand, Brodie records resistance to his ideas in the academy (largely within the domain of Catholic institutions, but also more widely). On the other hand, it is possible that Brodie will face censure from Catholic authorities in response to the publication of his views. The case thus provides a good opportunity to look at the nature of academic freedom and its character, extent, and limits within the secular academy as well as religiously-affiliated institutions.