SBLAAR20 Academic Conference Highlights

Early in the SBLAAR20 conference, an Institute of Biblical Research (IBR) section focused on how scripture is used in the Old and New Testaments of the Christian Bible. Gary Schnittjer presented how the Old Testament uses Hebrew Scriptures to provide a resource for how the New Testament uses Hebrew Scripture. It is exciting to see an interest in more technical comparative and interdisciplinary approaches to reading between the Old and New Testaments. Christianity will benefit from a more precise understanding of the relationship between literature, its author, and its philosophical environments. Brent Strawn delivered another paper along these lines. He explored Bonhoeffer’s use of the imprecatory Psalms as a means of understanding why God forsook Christ to death.

Teaching Religion

Instructors gave several papers on approaches to teaching undergraduate students about religion and the Bible. Areas of interest included using technology to encourage students to develop a personal record of learning and interests online in the form of an e-portfolio. There were many sessions on creative ways to teach language concepts and the literary structure of religious texts. Brian LePort delivered a paper explaining how he creates an archaeological experience for his students.

Gender & Sex in the Bible

I heard some interesting papers delivered in a variety of sections with interest toward developing different approaches to reading the biblical text. For example, one session focused on the misalignment of gender stereotypes and sexual orientation. This is part of a longer ongoing effort to understand how gender is perceived and shaped through modern culture and how that perception shapes our reading of ancient texts. Another session looked at the roles of men and women in the Hebrew Bible; for example, a paper by David Firth revealed an ethical value for identifying women as a source of wisdom in the revolt narratives in 2 Samuel. The topic of how gender is defined and perceived in biblical texts is important for challenging assumptions about ancient texts that might distract readers from the transmission of true values in the biblical text. Oftentimes, modern readings get caught up in arguing the merits of gender, sex, and hierarchy instead of understanding what the text is trying to convey.

Video Games & Theology

Scholars in a section gave several papers to explore theological themes in video games. This is a special interest since I am an avid video gamer, and my family plays video games together. There is so much to go into on this topic. I was excited to discover the interest and desire of so many scholars to look at the implications of religious themes in games, the religious activity of gaming, and other related aspects. I will be exploring this in future blogs. A section on religion and gaming has inspired me to design a course, which I will hopefully teach this fall 2021, entitled Sacred Space in Digital Games.

Science & Theology

Another area that has recently become very interesting to me is the interdisciplinary approaches to religion and science. There was a large panel introduction to the T&T Clark Handbook for Christian Theology and the Modern Sciences in which scholars from various disciplines discussed several aspects of science and theory. I am on a waiting list at the University to access this book when it is processed. I am also working on some preliminary research in the area of evolutionary biology and biblical ethics. I was very intrigued by the inclusion of this topic and look forward to more interdisciplinary approaches to biblical studies in the future.

Myth and the Bible

I spent the final days of the conference exploring myth and myth theory and its connections to biblical texts. This is an area I worked on in my dissertation research. My particular area of exploration was in comparative literary readings of Ugaritic mythological texts and a mythological text in the Hebrew Bible, Psalm 82. I am currently working on a paper proposing how inter literary readings of ancient texts can explore ethical concerns of ancient communities. This provides insight into how we might understand Hebrew Bible ethics. More to come.

I am looking forward to engaging in next year’s SBLAAR sessions, particularly in the Psalms, where there are expected connections with ecology and feminist sessions. I am also looking forward to continued connections with theology in video games. For example, I have begun thinking about religious themes in a video game that my family played during the 2020 lockdown—Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Finally, I am also interested in furthering my engagement with science and theology, especially in artificial intelligence, evolution, game theory, and morality.

About this event

Society of Biblical Literature/American Academy of Religion (SBLAAR) is an Annual Academic Conference that extends Nationally, Internationally, and Regionally. This is the first year it is running online as a virtual conference. Usually, it is held in a large metropolitan city in the United States. Read about #SBLAAR presentations. Also, read about other academic conferences.

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