One of my classes this semester is a First Year Seminar, designed, obviously for students in their first year of college (either semester) and meant to be a bit more hands-on and with an unusual creative component.  I’ve mentioned the course on the blog in previous years; it is called “Jesus in Scholarship and Film.”   (The creative element: for a final writing project they have to write a Gospel.)

In preparation for the second meeting of the semester this time I asked the students to reflect on what they thought would be the difference between studying religion – and especially the New Testament and the historical Jesus – in a faith context such as a church, synagogue, or Sunday School, and in a secular research university funded in part by the state.

It led to an interesting discussion and the students had good ideas.  Most of the comments were along similar lines, that there must be a difference between discussing biblical writings in light of your faith / personal beliefs and studying them as historical texts.

But several students expressed their views in rather abrupt terms.  One student said that, unlike in a church, the study of the New Testament in the university would be “objective.”  I asked the student what he meant, and in particular whether he thought that university professors were not biased or opinionated.  What would it mean to be objective?  Can subjectivity ever be completely avoided?

Another student said that in the university, unlike the church, people were simply seeking “the truth.”  I asked her what she thought her pastor would say if she told him that she didn’t think he was seeking the truth (!).

Anyway, I think it’s an interesting issue.  What’s the difference in studying the Bible in these two different kinds of settings, and how would or should someone express the difference without creating caricatures?

I’d be interested in your views.  What do you think?