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<< Return to SBL Forum Archive The SBL Forum Sponsors Two Sessions at the Annual Meeting in Washington, DCDan Clanton

Dan Clanton
Mark Roncace

Dan Clanton, SBL Forum Session: Comics, Graphic Novels, and the Bible (S18-83, 1:00 pm to 3:30 pm, Saturday)
Superman punches Braniac: BAM!
Batman kicks the Joker: KA-CHOW!
Spider-Man narrowly escapes an explosion: BOOM!
Jesus asks from the cross, "Lama Sabachthani?"

We have all seen comic books or comic book films that could contain the first three examples above. However, more and more you are likely to see the fourth example in a thought bubble at your local comic book shop. Comic books and graphic novels that employ religious language and imagery are becoming more and more common, as Alex Johnson pointed out in his article, "At the Comics Shop, Religion Goes Graphic," published on the MSNBC website in April.[1] Therein, Johnson discusses several titles, including "Warrior Nun" and "The Atheist." One could add to his list more series that either retell or utilize biblical literature, including the much-praised "Testament," written by Douglas Rushkoff, and the highly anticipated new series by Josh Howard, titled "The Lost Books of Eve."[2]

The proliferation of Bible-inspired comics should come as no surprise to those of us who pay attention to popular culture. Biblical texts and allusions have appeared for years in newspaper comic strips such as "Peanuts," "Bizarro," and "B.C." The Left Behind series and Mel Gibson's Passion opened up new venues for popular cultural renderings of Bible. And last year, three biblically-based graphic novels were released: Steve Ross, Marked; A. David Lewis, The Lone and Level Sands; and J. T. Waldman, Megillat Esther.[3] All of this increased cultural interest in the Bible not only offers us examples of new avenues of interpretation, but also provides us with an opportunity to harness some of these renderings for classroom use.

Under the auspices of the SBL Forum, we will come together for a special session at the national meeting in November to discuss some of these opportunities. A special session in every sense of the word, we are pleased to include SBL members as presenters; we are also privileged to welcome comic artists and writers to take part in a panel discussion of their work and their views on the intersection between the Bible and comic art.

Dr. G. Andrew Tooze will speak on the use and interpretation of the Bible in "secular" comics and will draw on a variety of series and characters in order to illuminate the way(s) in which the Bible appears to an unsuspecting readership. His paper is titled, "Do Superheroes Read Scripture? Finding the Bible in Comic Books." Terry Clark will then address the phenomenon of retelling biblical stories using sequential art in a comic form and discuss not only how these renderings interpret the Bible, but also how they could be used profitably in the classroom; his paper is titled, "Biblical Graphic Novels: Adaptation, Interpretation, and Pedagogy." Our last paper will be presented by Andrea Molinari and will focus on his new graphic novel, which retells the story of Perpetua and Felicitas. His paper is titled "Climbing the Dragon's Ladder: Perpetua, Felicitas, Graphic Novels and the Possibility of Modern Hagiography."

Following these papers, our speakers will be joined for a free-ranging discussion by the three comic artists and writers I mentioned above, all of which have recently published graphic novels based on biblical narratives: A. David Lewis, Steve Ross, and JT Waldman. Our fourth panelist, Dr. Greg Garrett, teaches at Baylor University and is the author of the 2005 book, Holy Superheroes! Exploring Faith & Spirituality in Comic Books.

Not only will our presenters and panelists entertain you, but they will also highlight the scholarly and pedagogical implications and prospects these popular cultural texts suggest through their engagement with the Bible. We hope to see you there!

Mark Roncace, SBL Forum Session: Faith in the Classroom (S19-129, 4:00 pm - 6:30 pm, Sunday)

Teaching religious studies courses presents a unique challenge and opportunity because students enter courses with personal opinions or beliefs about the subject. Students, for instance, may be deeply committed to the Christian tradition and hold the Bible as a sacred document not to be subjected to critical analysis, or they may have an antipathy for anything that smacks of the divine. Either way, students are typically more personally vested in the issues that arise in a religion course than they are in, say, a math or history class. There is more at stake for them. And this is often true for teachers as well, who, of course, also bring their own religious predispositions, or lack thereof, to the classroom. Consequently, teachers must give some thought to the role that "faith" plays in the educational experience. It is a good "problem" to face, since surely both students and teachers would prefer to study in a context in which all parties have a natural interest in the subject.

Much has been written on this topic, including several recent pieces in the Forum. But there is always more to be said because things change — students change (this year's freshman only knows the world as it has been since the early 1990s), teachers change (not only as faculties as a whole, but as individual instructors learn and grow), and the world changes (new popes, presidents, and wars). And there is more to be said as new and different voices come to the biblical studies table. In an effort to continue this very important conversation, The SBL Forum will sponsor a session at the meeting in Washington, DC, titled "Faith in the Classroom."

The presenters will address a wide variety of issues, ones that are worthy of consideration regardless of one's teaching context. Nicolae Roddy (Creighton University) will offer some thoughts on "applying rigorous critical methodologies to the [Hebrew Bible] text" in a way that "incidentally permits discovery" of how the texts have nourished living religious and cultural traditions for centuries. Bradley Chance (William Jewell College) will reflect on the "theological implications of critical views of biblical origins, which focus attention on the historical, social, cultural, and human dimensions of the Bible." If humans, he reasons, "are co-authors and co-creators with God of the story of which the Bible speaks," then the "discipline informs faith" and "faith informs the discipline." The final two papers promise to be an engaging exchange between Karla Bohmbach and Thomas Martin, who share a position at Susquehanna University. They also happen to be married (to each other) and hold very different views about the role of faith in the classroom. Bohmbach will present thoughts on how one's personal identity — complex and conflicting as it likely is — shapes ones teaching, and Martin will explore how he negotiates his faith, his "call" (he is a candidate for ordination in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America), and the religious pluralism of the contemporary classroom. (For more information on the papers, see the abstracts in the online program. Search for 11/19/2006, 4pm) Leonard Greenspoon will serve as the respondent, after which there will be open discussion. The session represents a valuable opportunity to exchange ideas about this vital topic.

Dan Clanton, University of Denver, and Mark Roncace, Wingate University

[1] See

[2] For more information on Douglas Rushkoff, see . The homepage for "Eve" is .

[3] For a discussion of Ross and Waldman's work, as well as an interview with them, see
my article in The SBL Forum. David G. Burke has also published a review of Lewis' work in the Forum.

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Citation: Mark Roncace , Dan Clanton, 'The SBL Forum Sponsors Two Sessions at the Annual Meeting in Washington, DC', SBL Forum , n.p. [cited Aug 2006]. Online:


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