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SBL: If you could teach any first year course in religion or scriptures this September, what would it be?

Carol Bakhos, UCLA

I would teach a first-year seminar which I taught several years ago, "Job, Faith and Suffering." We not only examined the composition of the Book of Job, but also its major philosophical and religious themes. Job, in turn, was the starting point for our discussion of theodicy, the justification of God in the face of evil. We read philosophical, religious and literary works such as Pope's An Essay on Man, excerpts of Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov, Mac Leish's JB, Kafka's The Trial, inter alia. The students grappled with such issues as the existence of a just God, faith in light of the existence of evil and the suffering of the innocent. For many, after 9/11 the questions and issues raised in these works are all the more palpable and demand our personal reflection.

Bruce Feiler, author of Abraham, and Walking the Bible

ABRAHAM: A Study in Three Religions. There is no better figure to understand what the religions have in common and where they diverged than Abraham. The message of Abraham's life, as it appears in Genesis, is that God's blessing is universally shared by all humankind.

Unfortunately, each of the religions over time began to wrestle over their own sacred history. Jews tried to claim Abraham for themselves, Christians for themselves, and Muslims the same. Gone was the universal Abraham, replaced by hundreds of different Abrahams. Anyone who cares about Scripture-or the relevancy of biblical figures today-has to understand how the traditions reinterpreted the figure of Abraham over time-and how we can reclaim him today.

Charles Kimball, Wake Forest University

Happily, I'm teaching a first-year course this fall: Introduction to Religion (REL 101). The course provides a congenial setting for exploring the nature and functions as well as common and distinctive features of various religious traditions. Our inquiry into the role(s) of sacred stories, sacred texts, authoritative leaders, ritual life, ultimate goals and so forth, connects naturally with a variety of prominent stories in the news: continuing conflict in Israel/Palestine, confrontation between Muslims and Hindus in northern India, various dynamics connected to the sexual abuse scandals within Christian churches and so on. We use an annotated study edition of the NRSV as a primary text so that students are introduced to critical study of the Bible even as they reflect on biblical examples of broader features of religious life and behavior.

Shelly Matthews and Alfons Tiepen, Furman University

While by no means identical in content and effect, the hermeneutical method used by Osama bin Laden-his reliance on particular Qur'anic verses to justify various fatwas condemning "the West,"-strikes us as very similar to the dominant method of biblical interpretation employed by students we teach in a region of the country heavily influenced by Christian fundamentalism. Therefore, in the post 9/11 climate, a class on "Hermeneutics and Ideology" strikes us as a highly desirable addendum to the curriculum.

Such a course would study examples in the history of biblical and Qur'anic interpretation, in order to consider the different locations of readers at different points in time. For example, students would examine different interpretations of Qur'anic verses about infidels, from classical to modern times, and the ways the Bible was used both to defend and attack slavery in the antebellum South. We would raise questions such as these: What motivates an individual or group to select some verses of sacred texts over others, and to read the selected verses in a particular fashion? What socio-economic, philosophical, political, personal, historical and other processes are involved in such choices? What are the factors that bring about an observable dichotomized world-view in extremist groups? What are the problems with such dichotomies? How do such dichotomies compare with those used in American discourse on the events of 9/11 (good vs. evil, with us or against us)? How does bin Laden's method of interpretation compare with that of radical Zionists, such as Gush Emunim who have argued that some verses in Deuteronomy and Joshua are applicable to the contemporary situation in Palestine? To condemnations of homosexuality by numerous Christian groups who support their view by citing various biblical passages?

We would not intend such a course to be merely a "value neutral" exploration of these questions. Rather we would actively encourage students to reflect on and evaluate the ethics of various interpretive methodologies, and require them in the end to argue for an ethically responsible method of interpreting sacred texts.

Citation: Moira Bucciarelli, " The Post 9-11 Classroom: If you could teach any first year course in religion or scriptures this september, what would it be?," SBL Forum , n.p. [cited Sept 2005]. Online:


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