Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Graduate Program in Religion: Fall News 2008

The latest version of the Graduate Program in Religion newsletter is now available online:

GPR Fall 2008 News (PDF)

The newsletter features the latest from faculty and graduate students, and some reflections from Professors Moody Smith and E. P. Sanders.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Duke in Israel

The Department of Religion (along with Ancient and Middle-Eastern Studies) is sponsoring a wonderful new Study Abroad Program this summer (2009): DUKE IN ISRAEL. A six week program located in Jerusalem, it will feature two courses: one on Biblical Archaeology, and one on the city of Jerusalem itself! The program includes a long field trip to the most important archaeological sites in Israel and also some in Jordan, such as Petra, a World Heritage site described by UNESCO as "one of the most precious cultural properties."

An optional 5-week Duke Engage program, following the academic program, is available.

The following document gives full details of the program:

Duke In Israel
May 17 to June 28 2009

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

New Graduate Program Website

The Graduate Program in Religion is proud to unveil its new website:

Graduate Program in Religion, Duke University

Feel free to post your comments here.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Harry Partin Dies

We are sorry to report the death of colleague Harry Partin, who taught the history of religions and Duke for thirty years. Duke Today has the story here:

Harry Partin, Long-time Teacher of History of Religions, Dies
Former faculty member was 82

Monday, April 28, 2008

Wesley Kort wins teaching honor

Congratulations to Professor Wesley Kort on winning the prestigious Richard K. Lublin Teaching Award. The full story is in Duke Today:

Wesley Kort: Lectures that Make a Difference
Long-time faculty member wins second teaching honor
By Nancy Oates

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Leela Prasad Initiates a DukeEngage Summer Program in India

The Loom & the Wheel: Literacy and Livelihood in Hyderabad, India

My work with “lived ethics” in the town of Sringeri has made me aware of the ways in which ethical thought is articulated and embodied in everyday routines, conversationally-shared stories, stylized performances, and in material and visual practices. I wrote about these explorations in Poetics of Conduct (2007), in which I mention how I was referred to two “Gandhians” in the town. While both individuals had met Gandhi briefly, perhaps unsurprisingly neither had explicitly identified himself as a “Gandhian.” This raised two simple questions, both not terribly original, but which, at least preliminarily, shape my interest in contemporary formulations of “Gandhian ethics”: What do people imagine Gandhi to be? What does it mean to live out Gandhian ideals or principles?

Gandhi's autobiography, among other things, is a profound lesson in understanding the concept and the practice of "service."

In December 2007, I visited Hyderabad supported by a site exploration grant from DukeEngage to see how Duke students and I could collaborate with two organizations that in different ways have "Gandhi" in their imaginary. Both organizations do inspiring work in child literacy. With a program grant awarded by DukeEngage, I will be setting up with my husband, Prasad, the first summer program in Hyderabad between June and August 2008. Our team, which consists of 8 highly-motivated Duke undergraduate students, will work with with Safrani Memorial School in the Darga locality and with the Hyderabad chapter of the Association for India’s Development (AID) in government city schools in Secunderabad. We will work with 5th-7th graders who come from severely underprivileged economic backgrounds. Our plan is to teach the children communicative English and basic reading skills, demonstrate basic science experiments in schools, work with school children on “free content” learning by collaboratively writing and directing skits and short plays, develop illustrative materials for subjects like geography and history, and work with a local education-supportive media studio to produce simple educational DVDs that will be used to broadcast to schools state-wide.

Why is the project called "The Loom & the Wheel"?

The hand-loom (magga) and the spinning wheel (charkha) are both considered central symbols of Gandhian political and social philosophy. Gandhi’s rejection of western machine-made cloth that came out of the exploitation of Indian land and labor accompanied his adoption of the spinning wheel to make yarn out of indigenous cotton, and the hand-loom to weave Khadi cloth of this yarn.

Safrani Memorial School is run by 78-year old Suraiya Hasan Bose whose family has close ties to Gandhi and Subhas Chandra Bose, both leading figures in the Indian Independence movement. The school connects to Mrs Hasan Bose’s other urgent project, whose central instrument is the loom: Centuries-old traditional handloom weaving is suffering a dramatic decline in Andhra Pradesh with mechanization, woeful State support, and emerging manual-labor markets created by rapid urban development. Acute unemployment has driven alarming numbers of debt-ridden weavers to suicide, or to migrate to Hyderabad, or give up weaving altogether in rural areas. Mrs. Hasan-Bose employs women weavers, many of them widowed or deserted, in her workshop (House of Kalamkari and Dhurries), which focuses on revitalizing older Persian and Andhra weaving traditions. Children of these weavers alongside neighborhood children from households of laborers, small business owners, or vegetable vendors, attend the adjacent Safrani Memorial School (K-10).

Association for India's Development (AID) is a US and India based volunteer organization that promotes Gandhian ideals of “sustainable, equitable and just development.” AID’s philosophy draws on the constructive, interconnected approach symbolized by the Gandhian “charkha” (spinning wheel). As faculty advisor of AID’s Duke chapter, I am familiar with the immersive process underlying AID projects. The AID-Hyderabad team, led by Dr. Vidya Jonnalagadda and Srihari Dukkipati, works with K-10 government English-, Telugu- and Urdu-medium schools in Hyderabad to provide an imaginative education in science and math, an acute need given the paucity of teachers and resources. The picture shows a AID volunteer offering supplementary lessons to an enthusiastic bunch of kids at the Govt school in in Adikmet.

We are looking forward to the exciting work ahead of us....

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Talpiot Tomb Controversy Revisited

[This slightly revised version was posted on 24 January]

A firestorm has broken out in Jerusalem following the conclusion of the “Third Princeton Theological Seminary Symposium on Jewish Views of the Afterlife and Burial Practices in Second Temple Judaism: Evaluating the Talpiot Tomb in Context.” Most negative assessments of archaeologists and other scientists and scholars who attended have been excluded from the final press reports. Instead the media have presented the views of Simcha Jacobovici, who produced the controversial film and book “The Lost Tomb of Jesus” with Hollywood director James Cameron, and who claims that his identification has been vindicated by the conference papers. Nothing further from the truth can be deduced from the discussion and presentations that took place on January 13-17, 2008.

A statistical analysis of the names engraved on the ossuaries leaves no doubt that the probability of the Talpiot tomb belonging to Jesus’ family is virtually nil if the Mariamene named on one of the ossuaries is not Mary Magdalene. Even the reading of the inscribed name as “Mariamene” was contested by epigraphers at the conference. Furthermore, Mary Magdalene is not referred to by the Greek name Mariamene in any literary sources before the late second-third century AD. An expert panel of scholars on the subject of Mary in the early church dismissed out of hand the suggestion that Mary Magdalene was married to Jesus, and no traditions refer to a son of Jesus named Judah (another individual named on an ossuary from the Talpiot tomb). Moreover, the DNA evidence from the tomb, which has been used to suggest that Jesus had a wife, was dismissed by the Hebrew University team that devised such procedures and has conducted such research all over the world. The ossuary inscribed with the name “Jesus son of Joseph” is paralleled by a find from another Jerusalem tomb, and at least one speaker said the reading of the name “Jesus” on the Talpiot tomb ossuary is uncertain. Testimony from archaeologists who were involved in the excavation of the Talpiot tomb leaves no doubt that the “missing” tenth ossuary was plain and uninscribed, eliminating any possibility that it is the so-called “James ossuary.”

The identification of the Talpiot tomb as the tomb of Jesus’ family flies in the face of the accounts of Paul and the canonical Gospel, which are the earliest traditions describing Jesus’ death and burial. According to these accounts Jesus’ body was placed in the tomb of a prominent follower named Joseph of Arimathea. Since at least the early fourth century Christians have venerated the site of Jesus’ burial at the spot marked by the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. In contrast, not a single tradition, Christian or otherwise, preserves any reference to or recollection of a family tomb of Jesus anywhere in Jerusalem.

The smoking gun at the conference was the surprise appearance of Ruth Gat, the widow of the archaeologist who excavated the tomb in 1980 and has since passed away. Mrs. Gat announced that her husband had known about the identification all along but was afraid to tell anyone because of the possibility of an anti-Semitic reaction. However, Joseph Gat lacked the expertise to read the inscriptions. Jacobovici now says that Mrs. Gat’s statement has vindicated his claims about the tomb.

To conclude, we wish to protest the misrepresentation of the conference proceedings in the media, and make it clear that the majority of scholars in attendance – including all of the archaeologists and epigraphers who presented papers relating to the tomb - either reject the identification of the Talpiot tomb as belonging to Jesus’ family or find this claim highly speculative.

Professor Mordechai Aviam, University of Rochester
Professor Ann Graham Brock, Iliff School of Theology, University of Denver
Professor F.W. Dobbs-Allsopp, Princeton Theological Seminary
Professor C.D. Elledge, Gustavus Adolphus College
Professor Shimon Gibson, University of North Carolina at Charlotte
Professor Rachel Hachlili, University of Haifa
Professor Amos Kloner, Bar-Ilan University
Professor Jodi Magness, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Professor Lee McDonald, Arcadia Seminary
Professor Eric M. Meyers, Duke University
Professor Stephen Pfann, University of the Holy Land
Professor Jonathan Price, Tel Aviv University
Professor Christopher Rollston, Emmanuel School of Religion
Professor Alan F. Segal, Barnard College, Columbia University
Professor Choon-Leong Seow, Princeton Theological Seminary
Mr. Joe Zias, Science and Antiquity Group, Jerusalem
Dr. Boaz Zissu, Bar-Ilan University