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Report from “Corinth in Contrast: Studies in Inequality”

by Stephen Hebert on Friday - 1 October 2010

in Biblical Studies

As I type this, I’m laughing at Ronald Stroud, an older gentleman and professor of Classics at UC Berkeley, who has a knack for asking insightful questions with lovely (and humorous) rhetorical flourish.

Dr. Stroud is just one of the presenters at “Corinth in Contrast: Studies in Equality”, a conference hosted by the departments of Classics, Religious Studies, and the Institute for the Study of Antiquity and Christian Origins (ISAC) at the University of Texas at Austin.

The conference brings together scholars from various disciplines — archaeologists, New Testament specialists, art historians, etc. — in order to re-examine the ancient city of Corinth and the concept of inequality.

Thinking back on the last two days, in some ways the conference has been a great example of the direction that scholarship needs to move, as well as a picture of the dichotomy between archaeologists and historians of religion.

First, it’s been fantastic to see archaeologists, ancient historians, and religious studies scholars interact with each other. While James Walters presented a paper discussing a new interpretation of Paul’s rhetorical use of the Last Supper in 1 Corinthians 11 using practice theory as his theoretical framework, archaeologists listened with great interest, in spite of the fact that Walters opened his presentation with this caveat: “I won’t be talking about material culture in this paper.”

The conference, therefore, suggests two important movements in scholarship:

  1. The legitimation of Religious Studies as a discipline.
  2. The importance of cross/inter-disciplinary work.

This is a very positive move.

Second, however, I see an issue with this particular conference that I can’t help but highlight. Through the first four sessions,1 most presentations have been divided into either archaeological or literary. Few presentations (Stroud’s discussion of magic and ritual, and Dr. Steve Friesen’s analysis of Junia Theodora and Phoebe are notable exceptions), have really blended analysis of material culture with analysis of ritual practice or literature.

That being said, the possibility of the continued legitimation of religious studies and its alliance with those who dig around for evidence of the day-to-day lives of ancient people is exactly the direction that we need.

Footnotes

  1. I realize this may change with tomorrow’s session, which I will miss, unfortunately.

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