Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Humanizing the Academy: Benefits of Blogging and SBL

Daniel O. McClellen has updated his comprehensive collection of posts on the SBL-Biblioblog affiliation. I want to thank him for including my last post on the issue.

I think I have finally read through all the posts.

One other positive aspect of having a section with bibliobloggers which I over looked was mentioned by Chris Brady:
"And besides, I like meeting with you all. So order me a cuppa tea and let’s talk."
Amen to that! (Except, I drink Diet Coke, not tea). I think I've had a grand total of two short conversations with Chris. I look forward to having more. Indeed, I look forward to having more of an opportunity to spend time talking with all the people I read on a regular basis (in some cases every day!). Moreover, I know that meeting others will open me up to new blogs I have yet to discover.

One great thing about biblioblogging is that it puts a human face on scholarship. Most academic works are (appropriately!) rather devoid of personal information. I always find it fascinating to simply discover what a scholar looks like. (Sometimes I'm rather disappointed!). The truth is, we can almost reduce scholars to their ideas. Of course, it would be natural to primarily identify names with certain exegetical, historical, literary, philosophical or theological positions--most of the time that's all we know about them! But of course the great thing with blogging is that it at least has the potential allow the academic to open up a little bit more about himself--which is of course quite revealing oftentimes about their scholarship. Better know the scholar and you better understand where he's coming from.

This is, in my opinion, in fact why many people are hesitant about revealing too much about themselves on their blogs--and why some avoid blogging altogether! Scholars don't want to reveal too much about themselves. Abiding by Enlightenment principles, many in the academy would like to pretend that they are not affected by their ecclesial tradition, their spirituality (or lack thereof), their philosophy on life, their upbringing, their personal interests, etc. Conferences which bring about greater personal interaction is fine--so long as everyone is all dressed up in their best clothes and can read their thoughts to one another in well-prepared--and footnoted--papers.

In short, I think scholars actually sometimes fear that if these personal aspects of who they were to be revealed it could hurt them. Their ideas might be seen as--horror of horrors--products of who they are! Best to appear like a Vulcan--motivated by "pure logic" (oops, I think I just revealed one of my personal interests).

Blogging in fact can remove that "faceless" mask. In fact--in many cases--I think it humanizes scholarship. And rather than hurting it, I think it advances it. It personalizes it. When combined with a flesh-and-blood encounter--e.g., an SBL section--I think the Enlightenment model for scholarship fades. How postmodern of us!--we all want to actually get to know one another better and where we're all coming from!

Yet, let me be clear: blogging is not in-and-of-itself going to re-personalize scholarship. In fact, the emergence of the internet as an academic tool and the rise of blogging could of course only make the problem worse. Let me explain.

Not trying to get too heavy here but, as many have noted, while the internet has brought the world closer together in some respects, it has also paradoxically increasingly isolated us from one another. I could write a whole post on that whole idea. For example, the international community is much more aware of the problems and crises different people around the world are experiencing. The internet in this way has hugely helped get financial aid to people facing catastrophes. Of course, when the next major storm hits, the world forgets about the victims of the last Katrina and moves on to the latest story. Since we have no personal connection with such people our charity is a kind of charity that lacks any kind of real commitment!

Moreover, while we are much more aware of, say, the oppression of women in Iran, we often are more ignorant of the problems facing our local communities--even the personal crises the person who works in the office next to our own is facing. We read about people half-way around the world, but we don't even know the person sitting next to us! But I digress. . .

I think having a section where people who blog actually have to interact with one another face-to-face is vitally important to addressing the concern that the internet will de-personalize--even de-humanize--the academic community. As the role of the internet continues to expand in the academic community, having a place for academics who talk to each other on-line to meet "in the flesh" seems to be greatly needed.


Jim said...

good points

Michael Barber said...

Jim, thanks for stopping by.

Daniel O. McClellan said...

This is an interesting dynamic of biblioblogging, and it's one of the reasons I began a blog of my own. Good discussion.

Michael Barber said...

Daniel--I'm glad you did. You have a great blog!

Daniel O. McClellan said...

Thanks for the kind words, Michael.

Edward Pothier said...

On the need for humanizing biblical scholarship and biblical scholars I remember a Q&A session at a public lecture by the late Fr. Raymond Brown. The questioner commented that the Bible was meant for people, not biblical scholars. If the questioner had included an "only" before "biblical scholars", there would not have been a problem. But as a preface to his answer tothe actual question, Fr. Brown asserted that biblical scholars are people too!