Monday, January 17, 2005

SBL Resolution Survey

I have greatly appreciated Ed Cook's and Jim Davila's comments on the SBL Resolution that was circulated to members with the invitation to "Agree" or "Disagree". (And see other links to other blogs in both Ed's and Jim's posts). I have voted "disagree" and added the following comment in the invitation to provide "additional comments":
Although sympathetic with elements in this statement, I feel uncomfortable about this move for the following reasons:

(1) It should be clear who wrote this resolution and what the processes are for circulating resolutions like this to the membership. Is it something that was proposed, seconded and voted on in the SBL council? If so, is this now being sent to the members to vote on? In other words, I feel that the process needs to be transparent and at present it is not.

(2) The statement tacitly accepts the very attitude to the Bible that it is apparently attempting to criticize by summarising in a sentence or so what it regards as the Bible's central message(s). The statement tends to reinforce a particular attitude to the Bible, which sees it as having dominant messages that just need extracting and applying. In other words, there is no attempt to challenge the kind of fundamentalist approach to the Bible under criticism here.

(3) I am concerned that the statement will alienate some in the society who hold views similar to (one or more of) those being rejected in the first paragraph. I think that the society will be richer for allowing a variety of views and, most importantly, encouraging rigorous intellectual exchange on them, rather than attempting to prescribe what moral and political views its members should have.

(4) Our goal is to foster Biblical scholarship rather than to act as a political lobby group. I am sure that we have a lot that we need to communicate to the wider world about our discipline, and this will include the necessity to speak out on important religious, political and moral issues of our day, but we need to ask ourselves whether we are likely to communicate most effectively by issuing this kind of broad-brush, sweeping statement. In my view, the issuing of a statement like this is likely to be counter-productive and may be a step we come to regret in the future.
When I submitted this tonight, the results come through so far as 57 per cent "Agree" and 43 per cent "Disagree" which seems to represent some movement from the figures reported by Ed Cook only the other day (70 per cent agree). Perhaps the bibliobloggers have made a difference?

A couple of other related issues. Jim West makes the useful point that the survey is SBL members only and so is effectively "in house", a family matter. He notes too that the URL of the survey has a "DO_NOT_COPY_THIS_LINK_" and so he refrains from doing so. However, I don't think that that is added to discourage linking to the survey so much as to discourage linking to that excessively long, temporary URL. If they had wanted to discourage linking to the survey, I reckon they would have added a "do not copy this link" to the URL sent out in the email. But I may be wrong.

On the more substantive point about the appropriateness of public discussion of in-house matters, the point is well taken but I would want to ask: what is the alternative? There is no public forum solely for discussion of this kind of issue by SBL members only. Once upon a time there was an email list called Graphai which was sponsored by the SBL but become defunct several years ago. For some time, I have been lobbying for a more interactive area for SBL members on the SBL Forum, not least given the fact that the name at present gives the impression of something interactive. So I would say that at present, one of the best ways of securing an intelligent discussion about this resolution is for the bibliobloggers to take it on. I can't think of a good alternative at present.

Jim Davila suggests that the poll could have been password protected. It seems to me that the lack of password protection is troubling. How do they know that the "Mark Goodacre" who clicked in tonight is me? And how do they know that the multiple "Anonymous" users are SBL members? I am guessing that a part of the problem is using the Survey Monkey site rather than doing it in house.

To get an idea of the extent of the problem, see the Canonist, a new blog to me, so I can't comment on it other than to comment that after noting "Ooh, some horn-rimmed academics are making a political statement," its author says "Anyway, readers, go over there and enter your random results to f*** around with the SBL's cute little poll." Since this is happening, I doubt that the results of this survey can be taken seriously. I propose that this survey is voided as a well-meaning but ultimately not very well thought through experiment.


Jim said...

As I remarked on Ed's comment page (before it was closed on the SBL survey thread) the fact that the URL to the survey was being widely distributed was going to skew the results (as you rightly show has indeed happened, in your last paragraph). The discussion, in my opinion, should have been among SBL members only through a password accessible survey and not a public mailout. That someone completely unconnected to the SBL was directing other folks not connected to the SBL to the survey proves the danger of such an enterprise. I hope that you will pass on that person's remarks to the SBL leadership so that they will see that the survey is skewed.

Anonymous said...

I also voted disagree on the SBL resolution because it seemed to me entirely inappropriate that the SBL was considering taking such an overtly party-political stance. Fine for scholars to comment on the way the Bible is being used in public discourse (shame on us if we don't do that), but for SBL to even consider trying to speak for us all when we're so diverse is unwise, it seems to me.

Steve W