The Northern Hemisphere Division of the Bible and Critical Theory Seminar, imaginatively renamed The Bible, Critical Theory and Reception Seminar, was inaugurated in Sheffield this past week (14-15 Sept.). Alongside general discussions of the nature of reception and uses of critical theory, diverse paper topics included: U2, laments, and biblical language; the Geneva Bull; neoliberalism and intellectuals; footballing messiahs and advertising; queering Ruth; Blake and Ruth; and cities and Song of Songs. Though I expected things to fall more on the reception side given British intellectual history, I think a good balance was struck between ‘reception’ and ‘critical theory’, if that distinction can be made.
Unless I misread things dramatically, the general feeling seems to have been that the conference was successful and a pleasant place to be for the participants. The consensus was clear that this should be an annual thing and we’ll be encouraging more and more postgraduates to give papers, particularly those doing reception or critical theory topics at places where they may not have too many people with similar interests. As seems to be typical of smaller conferences, it is much easier to have consistently good quality papers in such a setting. One of the reasons for this is that postgraduates played a significant part and, as has been noticed elsewhere/somewhere on the blogs before, there is often the likelihood that more effort goes into such presentations. But in fear of getting misty-eyed, I thought all papers and discussion were genuinely good. As John Lyons remarked at the end, this was one conference where he felt he got something out of every paper even if some more than others were more to his tastes. I think this sort of venue is going to be important in keeping reception and critical theory on the agenda in British biblical scholarship, not least because it is a venue where the discussion is not on the defensive and where various general issues in the humanities and social sciences can be assumed thereby allowing papers to get to the point without having to spend too much time explaining the background basics.
Aside from the quality of the papers, the informality was definitely a strength of the seminar/conference, especially being able to rearrange things at last minute without any panic and there was no real stress usually involved in organising these things. The seminar was just the right size, didn’t start too early and didn’t go on forever. And that’s all to the good.
As Katie Edwards wrote on Twitter, ‘…best conference I’ve ever attended. Brilliant fun and brilliant people’. Can’t argue with that, eh?
Here is the evidence that the seminar/conference existed: