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NEILSON-KAHN SEMINAR: Through a Glass Darkly: Reading the New Testament in a Postmodern World

2010-2011 William Allan Neilson Professor:
Wayne A. Meeks, Woolsey Professor of Biblical Studies Emeritus
Yale University

Organizing Faculty:
Joel Kaminsky, Suleiman Mourad, Vera Shevzov
Religion Department

SculptureDuring the fall of 2010, the Kahn Liberal Arts Institute will continue its partnership with the visiting William Allan Neilson Professor in presenting the second Neilson-Kahn Seminar. The project will bring Wayne A. Meeks, the 2010-2011 Neilson Professor in Religion, together with Smith and Five College faculty and students to forge a stimulating intellectual community and to create special time and space for Smith scholars whose work and teaching would most benefit from systematic interaction with Professor Meeks.

Joel Kaminsky, Vera Shevzov, and Suleiman Mourad, all from the Religion Department, have been coordinating arrangements for the semester-long seminar, which will center around the theme Through a Glass Darkly: Reading the New Testament in a Postmodern World. They will join Professor Meeks and a group of other Smith faculty, visiting scholrs, and students for a five-part series including lectures, readings, and colloquium discussions throughout the fall semester.

The three Neilson Professor Lectures, to be presented by Wayne Meeks, will form the core of the Neilson-Kahn Seminar (see the schedule below for more details). After each of the three lectures, Seminar participants will join Professor Meeks for dinner and an extended discussion of the issues and questions from that day's talk. The Seminar will also include two special sessions for its participating faculty and students that will allow the group to further examine related topics. In the first, students from the Religion Department will join Seminar participants on the evening of Monday, October 25, for a scholarly discussion of a Bible text. On December 6, Seminar participants will be joined by Dale Martin, one of the contributors to the book After the First Urban Christians: The Social-Scientific Study of Pauline Christianity Twenty-Five Years Later, a collection of essays that revisits key issues in Meeks's landmark book The First Urban Christians: The Social World of the Apostle Paul. That final seminar session will allow an examination of the two works and a discussion of scholarship on early Christianity over the past 25-30 years.

The three Neilson Professor lectures are free and are open to the public. Each will take place in the Neilson Browsing Room in Neilson Library beginning at 4:30 pm on the dates indicated below.


Monday, September 27:
The Myth of Self-Interpreting Text: Communities Making Scripture Making Communities

The metaphor so familiar in religious and even in political discourse, "The New Testament tells us...," or "The Bible teaches...," conceals complex strategies. What do we mean when we claim that a text "speaks" with authority? How does a text get to be sacred? Communities may be created by sacred texts—but sacred texts evolve in communities. What is the social and cultural process by which this dialectic works? Professor Wayne Meeks will explore the complex interplay of religious text and community in this first lecture in the Neilson Professor series.
Monday, September 27, 2010 :: 4:30 pm :: Neilson Browsing Room, Neilson Library, Smith College :: Free and open to the public.

Click here

Click here to view PowerPoint slides

Monday, October 18:
Naming Jesus: History, Midrash, and Myth

The earliest followers of Jesus struggled to find appropriate images to say who Jesus was—to themselves and to others. This was a self-involving process, for it was at the same time a struggle for the identity of a new movement. It was at heart an interpretive process, both in the broad sense that the work of forming an identity always interprets the world and simultaneously interprets one's own being in it, and in the specific sense that sacred texts and traditions about their meaning were centrally involved. In this second lecture in the Neilson Professor series, Wayne Meeks will discuss this process and explore how comparing it with other movements of the time, both within Judaism and in the wider culture of the Mediterranean basin, helps us to understand it better.
Monday, October 18, 2010 :: 4:30 pm :: Neilson Browsing Room, Neilson Library, Smith College :: Free and open to the public.

Click here

Click here to view PowerPoint slides

Monday, October 25:
Reading the New Testament Text: The Gospel of Mark as a Novel

Participants in the Neilson-Kahn Seminar and a selected group of Religion students will come together for a scholarly discussion of a Biblical Text. This session is open to seminar participants only.

Monday, November 8:
The Rise and Fall of Historicism—and What Do We Do Now?

The emergence of what we have called scientific history and confidence
that such history could determine what the New Testament means have been
a central theme in post-Enlightenment history. That confidence has, to say the least, been severely shaken in recent decades. We have discovered that, inevitably, our pictures of the past are shaped by reflections of ourselves and our cultures. But if history can't answer our questions, what can? What remains the useful role of history in interpretation—and what kind of history? Wayne Meeks will examine these challenging questions in his third and final lecture in the Neilson Professor series.
Monday, November 8, 2010 :: 4:30 pm :: Neilson Browsing Room, Neilson Library, Smith College :: Free and open to the public.

Monday, December 6:
Method and Imagination: Constructing a Social History of Ancient Christianity

An evaluation of a quarter century of social scientific study of Pauline Christianity based on the book After the First Urban Christians, edited by Todd D. Still and David G. Horrell. This session is open to seminar participants only.

Wayne A. MeeksWayne A. Meeks
is Woolsey Professor of Biblical Studies Emeritus in the Department of Religious Studies, Yale University, where he taught from 1969 until 1999. He was Chairman of the Department 1972-75, Acting Chairman 1978-79, 1982-83, and Director of the Division of the Humanities of the University 1988-91. Earlier, he taught at Indiana University 1966-69 and Dartmouth College 1964-65, and before that he was a campus pastor in Memphis, Tennessee, for the Presbyterian Church. He has served as president of the two leading professional societies in his field, the Society of Biblical Literature (1985) and Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas (2004-5). He holds an honorary doctorate from the University of Uppsala and is a fellow of the British Academy and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is best known for his publications on the writings of the apostle Paul and on the Fourth Gospel, for his investigation of the social history of earliest Christianity, and for work on the formation of early Christian morality.


  • Scott Bradbury, Classical Languages & Literature
  • L. Scott Brand, Religion
  • Robert Doran, Greek & Hebrew (Amherst College)
  • Joel Kaminsky, Religion, Organizing Faculty
  • Richard Lim, History
  • Suleiman Mourad, Religion, Organizing Faculty
  • Michael Penn, Religion (Mount Holyoke College)
  • Vera Shevzov, Religion, Organizing Faculty
  • Patricia Skarda, English Language & Literature

  • Student auditor: Colleen O'Toole '11
  • Student auditor: Natalie Sargent '12
  • Student auditor: Julia Scheier '12
  • Graduate student auditor: Lilian Jackman (Yale University)


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