Friday, May 23, 2014

Smith on Biblical and ANE studies in America

NORTHWEST SEMITIC EPIGRAPHY DAY: The State of Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern Studies in America (Mark S. Smith, ASOR Blog). Excerpt:
This change corresponds to a further shift in our programs, universities, and society. Within our programs, questions have been raised about how to pursue the learning needed for research. Why study a fairly obscure language such as Ugaritic when you can study wonderful areas such as anthropology or literary criticism? The underlying question is not the value of all these areas; we should all be interested in as vast a series of fields as possible. The issue becomes why one at the expense of the other and how they are valuable for what sorts of questions or problems.

In the university, the field of Bible and ANE is of little interest to other fields. Unlike many others, little in ours has attracted the interest of other academics. For various historical reasons, we generate little by way of theory for other fields, although I think that we conduct various sorts of inquiry valuable to others (for example, the analysis of textual processes for literary criticism). Bible and ANE studies have also tended to its own tasks, with little concern for relating our value to other fields. We need to do better.
Okay, the topic is broader than NWS epigraphy, but Professor Smith himself is a NWS epigrapher and, as he notes, the field is central to the topic of this important essay. The picture is not dissimilar in the U.K. There is not the same exploitative use of adjunct labor (although there are a lot of temporary full-time teaching fellows). But we have to deal with the corrosive effects of the government-implemented periodic research evaluations (currently the "Research Excellence Framework" or REF), which both drive and constrain University research in increasingly unhelpful ways.

Related posts here and here.