Departments of Religious Studies

In my previous post I began to address the question of what we look for when students apply to enter into our PhD program.   To make sense of what I have to say about that, I need to give yet more background into what our program *is*.   In my previous post I started discussing how programs of religious studies in secular colleges and universities began to appear after WWII.

My department has always claimed to be the first full-fledged Department of ...

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The Graduate Program in Religious Studies

QUESTION: Can you write something about the background of your PhD students, how you selected them, what makes a prospective doctoral candidate stand out against the pack, whether there is a huge academic gulf between knowledge and argumentative skills of your undergraduates and research students.

RESPONSE:  Ah, this is an interesting question, and as I’ve thought about it I’ve realized that there are lots of things that I take for granted about the process of admitting students ...

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My Forgery Seminar (Syllabus)

            The academic semester, alas, has begun, as of this past Wednesday.   As usual, I’ll be teaching two courses.   My undergraduate class, as is true every spring, is “Introduction to the New Testament.”   My PhD seminar, this term, is “Literary Forgery in the Early Christian Tradition.”   I’ve taught this class twice before, but now I have my book (Forgery and Counterforgery: The Use of Literacy Deceit in Early Christian Polemics) to structure the course.  I’ve never had one ...

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Can My Students Believe in the Inerrancy of the Bible?

QUESTION:

Do you ever get a student in your class who doggedly insists upon the inerrancy of the Bible? If so, and if they write their term papers in support of Biblical inerrancy, is it possible for them to get a passing grade in your class?

 

RESPONSE:

HA!  That’s a great question!

So, part of the deal of teaching in the Bible Belt is that lots of my students – most of them? – have very conservative views about the Bible as the Word ...

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Introduction to My Introduction (to the NT)

I have decided to add an “Introduction” to my textbook, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings.  I is very similar (indeed!) to the introduction that I have now in my Introduction to the entire Bible.  The whole idea is to get students to see why taking an academic course on the NT is very important.   Here is the new Introduction, in full:

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Introduction

Why Study the New Testament?

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Where Do You Start an Introduction to the NT?

One of the hardest parts of writing an Introduction to the New Testament is figuring out where to begin.   If someone were writing a literary introduction, or even a theological one, it might make best sense to begin at the beginning, with the Gospel of Matthew, and then continue through the New Testament all the way to the book of Revelation.  But what if one is writing an Introduction from a *historical* perspective?   Matthew wasn’t the first Gospel to be ...

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Getting Started on My NT Introduction

So far I have been talking about how I conceived of my textbook when I first started working on it in the mid 1990s, stressing in particular that I wanted to approach the task from a rigorously historical perspective.   I should say again, I really was not sure that anyone would be interested in a textbook like that.  The only think comparable that I knew about at the time was a textbook by Joseph Tyson, a fine scholar at SMU, ...

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On Boring Textbooks

There is one other general principle that I tried to follow when writing my NT textbook in the 1990s.  In my experience, most textbooks – not just in biblical studies, but in all fields – suffer from one ubiquitous problem.   They are BORING.   A guiding principle for me was to try my best to keep from boring readers to death.

I’ve always been amazed over the years how otherwise intelligent human beings can take really fascinating material and make it dull, ...

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The Importance of a Comparative Approach to the NT

I started this thread thinking that I would devote it to discussing the changes that I am making in the sixth edition of my textbook, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings.  But I realized, once I started, that I needed to explain more fully what the textbook was at its inception back in the mid 1990s before talking about changes that I’m making now.  And so my past few posts have been about how I ...

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The (Ancient) Genre of the Gospels

In this thread I’ve been talking about how I conceived of my New Testament textbook, some 20 years ago now, as a rigorously historical introduction.   I’ve  been stressing that one of the ways it is historical is that it takes seriously the Greco-Roman milieu out of which it arose, and that one of the key implications is that one needs to read the NT books in light of the ancient genres which they employ.   My argument in the book (and ...

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