Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Learning, Teaching, and Researching Biblical Studies, Today and Tomorrow

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Learning, Teaching, and Researching Biblical Studies, Today and Tomorrow

Article excerpt

The scope of my address is at the same time both absurdly ambitious and simple to state. It is an examination of what we are doing-or think we are doing- with our students, in the academic study of the Bible at every level, from the beginning undergraduate to the most advanced researcher. It is a questioning of the rationales and the processes of learning, teaching, and research. And it is motivated by an anxiety that in all our great technical and methodological advances in our knowledge and understanding of the Bible we may have forgotten to keep these questions of our underlying purpose alive.

Almost everyone in this room is a teacher of the Bible-for some, the teaching of students is more or less the whole of their daily task; for others it may be a necessary duty and distraction from what they regard as their real work. And yet, when we come together in our congresses of biblical scholars, many of us seem to feel we are on holiday and manage to slough off the teaching business altogether (apart from a couple of sessions). The truth is actually more ugly than that: there is in some quarters an underlying belief that teaching is an activity that is inferior to research. Those who can, research; those who can't, teach. No presidential addresses, delivered by scholars who have made their name in research, have ever been devoted to teaching, as far as I know. I am aiming to set teaching on the research agenda of every biblical scholar, to make sure it is firmly embedded in the program of the Society of Biblical Literature, and to signal to our students that they form part of our core business.

I am, of course, not the first or the only teacher of biblical studies to be advocating the program I am sketching in this address, and I know that much of what I have to say will not be news to many of you. Many intuitively good teachers are already doing all the things I will have to recommend, and in some quarters the happy eschaton of "tomorrow" has already dawned. But I still think it would be good to focus on the teaching of our subject, to scrutinize it and to theorize it, and to imagine a tomorrow better than today.

The reason I connect our research with teaching is twofold: (1) I shall be arguing for the tearing down of the traditional divide between teaching and research, and for the incorporation of research into the program of every student in higher education. (2) What we teach our students today is, more or less, what they will research tomorrow if they go into full-time research and enter the profession of biblical scholars. There will indeed always be people who will strike out on new paths of their own, but on the whole the questions students learned to examine as undergraduates and as graduate students will be the kinds of questions they examine their whole life long-that is what they have been trained to do. In our undergraduate classrooms as well as in our graduate seminars we are day by day shaping the future of the discipline, and that is why strategic thinking about our discipline must begin with a reexamination of what goes on in our classrooms.

I say I am concerned with teaching, since that is the familiar term, but it is not so much teaching that I care about, but learning.1 I try to avoid the term "pedagogy," since that fixes the gaze on the teacher, who is the pedagogue, not on the learner. I want in fact to advocate a shift of focus in our educational theory and praxis from the teacher to the student. If there is no learning, there is no education; if the students are not actually learning, there is no point in having a teacher.

Everything I have to say revolves around one phrase:


It's an oddly redundant phrase, for what else could learning be but studentcentered? The phrase comes into being, of course, as a contrast to the traditional educational method of teacher-centered learning. Traditionally, the teacher has been at the center, in the forefront, at the front of the room (as in this room, where I have been given the role of the traditional teacher). …

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