Monday, November 13, 2006

Garden of Nerdly Delights

That was how my wife referred to the conference on Byzantine Studies I attended this weekend, though I enjoyed it very much. Some thoughts:
1. Sokal inspired spoof papers should be randomly inserted into each day of any serious academic conference program both for entertainment and to encourage academics to take themselves less seriously. In addition, to add a thrilling "Where's Waldo?" effect each conference paper should be forced to include one randomly chosen word such as "wangle" or "mooncalf" without compromising the integrity of its argument.
2. Boiling a 25 page paper down to 10 for presentation at a conference calls one's academic bluff. It is also the best writing exercise imaginable.
3. Anthropoligical investigations that unsympathetically critique aspects of other cultures by modern standards should first consider how devastating an anthropological investigatoin of modern academics would be.
4. Secular Biblical scholars who shows the Bible's apparently "faith threatening" manuscript variants share one characteristic with the secular Byzantine historian who shows the apparently "faith threatening" political aspects behind the early church councils: They are both completely unthreatening (and even helpful) to a properly grounded Christian faith.
5. Scholars unable to fathom the contours of Christian theology often end up applying external theories to make sense of its impact. That such supplementary theories change every few years is illustrative of how ineffective this approach has been, and continues to be.
On an unrelated note, this talk on political liberty by Nicholas Wolterstorff shows the Rawlsian interpretation of democracy to be a deeply truncated one, and does a fantastic recovery job of the Jewish and Christian antecedents to the modern concept of individual rights. It is also the clearest overview of the Stout/Hauerwas debate that I've come across.

If it helps the medicine go down for anyone, although he makes the case for liberal democracy, Wolterstorff can certainly not be accused of being on the religious right.