Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Duke Religion Second in the Country for Scholarly Productivity

The Chronicle of Higher Education ranks Duke second in its "Top Research Universities Faculty Scholarly Productivity Index" for Religion / Religious Studies in 2007, below only Harvard. The full chart is available here:

Top Research Universities Faculty Scholarly Productivity Index: Religion / Religious Studies, 2007

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Ebrahim Moosa's New Website

Please visit Ebrahim Moosa's new illustrated website, which features details of his publications, his awards and honors, multimedia resources, a new blog and more:

Ebrahim Moosa

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Ebrahim Moosa lectures before the King of Morocco

Ebrahim Moosa speaks at the Qarawiyin MosqueThe Religion Department's Ebrahim Moosa has been in the news after delivering a lecture “Ethical Challenges in Contemporary Islamic Thought” hosted by His Majesty King Muhammad VI of Morocco. Duke in the News has the full story:

King of Morocco Attends Lecture By Duke Professor Ebrahim Moosa
This week, Moosa delivered a lecture, “Ethical Challenges in Contemporary Islamic Thought,” that was hosted by His Majesty King Muhammad VI of Morocco and was held in the renovated Qarawiyin Mosque in the historic city of Fez. Attending the lecture, which came during the holy month of Ramadan, were the king, a royal entourage, scores of diplomats, Moroccan government representatives, ministers and senior representatives of the armed forces, among others.

“It was a real honor to be invited to speak to such a distinguished audience,” said Moosa . . .
Click on the link above to read the full story, which was also covered in the Duke Chronicle:

Prof lectures to Moroccan monarch
By: Sam Choe

Saturday, September 29, 2007

American Religion at Duke and UNC Chapel Hill

We have a new website devoted to the study of American Religion at Duke and UNC Chapel Hill. Please explore the site and let us know what you think:

The Study of American Religion at Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Article on Eric Meyers in News and Observer

The following article appeared in Friday's News and Observer (excerpt below; for full article, click on the link):

The congregation's voice before God
As cantor on Yom Kippur, a Duke professor unites spiritual life and lifelong love
Yonat Shimron, Staff Writer
For nearly four decades, Duke University professor Eric Meyers has been known best as an archaeologist and teacher. But his passion is singing, and on the Jewish High Holiday he serves in the rarefied role of a cantor.

His commanding lyric baritone will fill the sanctuary tonight to mark the beginning of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, considered the holiest day of the Jewish year.

For Meyers, 67, the work of the cantor, or musical prayer leader, is not so much a sideline as a lifelong love. From the time he was 8, growing up in Norwich, Conn., Meyers has been singing -- first in his childhood synagogue's choir, and later in pulpits in Massachusetts and New York, and in concert halls across the Triangle. Through singing, he said, he has been able to connect with a spiritual side -- one his academic work can't fully touch.

"Music keeps one human," Meyers said. "It's a totally different experience in the brain and heart. It takes you to a different place." . . . .

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Late Ancient Judaism Position

Duke University's Department of Religion in Trinity College of Arts and Sciences invites applications and nominations for a tenure-track assistant professor position in late ancient Judaism to begin August 2008. Candidates should have expertise in classical Jewish literature and an interest in Jewish interactions with late-ancient Christianity and/or early Islam. Additional areas of interest may include art, archaeology, gender studies or any discipline related to the cognate fields of Classical Studies, History, or Islamic Studies. The appointment includes graduate and undergraduate instruction. The appointee will participate in Duke's Graduate Program in Religion and Judaic Studies Program. They also will collaborate with faculty members in the Department of Religious Studies at the nearby University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. We prefer candidates send a letter of application, a curriculum vitae, and three letters of reference electronically to nhurtgen@duke.edu. Applications submitted by mail should be directed to Chair of the Late-Ancient Judaism Search Committee, Department of Religion, Box 90964, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708-0964. Applications received by October 15, 2007 will be guaranteed full consideration but the search will continue until the position is filled. Duke University is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer. Women and minorities strongly are encouraged to apply.

Islamic Studies Position

Duke University: The Department of Religion in Arts & Sciences invites applications and nominations for a tenure-track position in Islamic Studies at the assistant professor level to begin August 2008. Candidates should have a commitment to critical and comparative approaches to the study ofreligion and culture. Subfield and geographic areas of concentration are open. Candidates must demonstrate proficiency to conduct research in and teach the relevant languages related to their primary area of expertise. Successful candidates will be required to offer a range of undergraduate classes. The appointee will participate in Duke's Graduate Program in Religion and collaborate with faculty members in the Department of Religious Studies at the nearby University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. We prefer candidates send a letter of application, a curriculum vitae, and three letters of reference electronically to nhurtgen@duke.edu. Applications submitted by mail should be directed to Chair of the Islam Search Committee, Department of Religion, Box 90964, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708-0964. Applications received by October 15, 2007 will beguaranteed full consideration but the search will continue until the position is filled. Duke University is an Equal Opportunity / Affirmative Action Employer. Women and minorities strongly are encouraged to apply.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Fall 2007 class on Arab and Middle-Eastern Christians

From an earlier blog message you might have understood that for the next three years I will be sitting and waiting in Rome for the Vatican Library to reopen, hopefully in 2011. But that is not the case! In fact, one of my fall 2007 classes is an undergraduate seminar on “Arab and Middle-Eastern Christians in the United States” (REL 185.04). There still are a few spots open. We would be particularly interested in having students who somehow, through their own experience, or through friends, neighbors, relatives, parents, or grandparents feel some connection with one of the many Christian communities in the Middle East: Antiochian Orthodox, Armenian, Assyrian, Chaldean, Coptic, Maronite, Melkite, Rum-Catholic, Rum-Orthodox, Syrian-Orthodox, Syrian-Catholic, or any other denomination. The focus will be on the life of these communities in the United States. Whatever you might be able to contribute, would be most welcome.
Info: rompay@duke.edu

Lucas Van Rompay

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Leela Prasad wins Best First Book in the History of Religions

Leela Prasad, Associate Professor of Ethics and Indian Religions, has been awarded the American Academy of Religion Best First Book in the History of Religions for Poetics of Conduct: Oral Narrative and Moral Being in a South Indian Town (Columbia University Press, 2006). Here are some details about the award:
The Best First Book in the History of Religions Award was established by the American Council of Learned Societies in 1891 and is now administered by the American Academy of Religion. This award honors exceptional publications. Eligibility for the award is determined by three criteria: (1) the nomination must be the first book published by the nominee; (2) it must be in the field of "History of Religions" (in the broad sense that it raises historical and/or comparative methodological questions in the field of religion); (3) it must have been published within the calendar year of the given award period.

A committee of five, appointed by the Board of the American Academy of Religion, screens books nominated for the award. The nomination process is initiated by individual presses, who send copies of the nominated book, with a letter stating that the book meets the three criteria mentioned above. Presses may also include statements of the merits and special features of the book.
Awards will be presented at the AAR’s 2007 Annual Meeting in San Diego, CA, November 17-20, 2007. Today's press release is available on the AAR site:

The American Academy of Religion 2007 Book Awards

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Bruce Lawrence in the news

The Globe and Mail ran a story yesterday by Sheema Khan, entitled To defeat Bin Laden, first you have to understand him, which discusses our department's Bruce Lawrence. You have to subscribe for the full article, but here is an excerpt courtesy of Duke in the News:
The threat from al-Qaeda and its offshoots remains high, according to recent U.S. intelligence reports. It is clear that Osama bin Laden's message continues to attract adherents. In order to understand the power of his ideas, one should study the words of the man himself. Bruce Lawrence, a Duke University Islamicist, has done just that in Messages to the World, a compilation of bin Laden's statements from 1988-2004. The recurring theme in bin Laden's arguments is reciprocity . . .

. . . . In Messages, bin Laden acknowledges that the Prophet Mohammed forbade the killing of innocent civilians in combat. Yet, to support his call for violence in the West, he bypasses the Prophet's words in favour of the rulings of a medieval scholar, Ibn Taymiyyah, who sanctioned the killing of non-combatants. Bin Laden stresses reciprocity and perpetual warfare, whereas the Prophetic template stressed patience, strict limits on war, and amnesty.

So, in the battle of ideas, Muslim scholars must counter bin Laden's arguments with authoritative Prophetic examples.

In the democratic arena, there needs to be a push toward civic engagement by Muslim youth. This means that Islamic centres must stop importing preachers who encourage isolation and who forbid or discourage voting . . . .
Prof. Lawrence is also to appear on a forthcoming CNN special called God's Warriors. The episode on God's Muslim Warriors goes out on 22 August at 9pm ET/PT.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

How Muslim Communities Counter Radicalism

From today's Duke University News and Communications:

How Muslim Communities Counter Radicalism to Be Study Topic

Duke and UNC researchers will seek to learn from the responses of four American Muslim communities to radical Islamic movements across the globe
Durham, NC -- Finding out how American Muslims address messages of extremism in their communities will be the goal of a two-year study funded by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Researchers at Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will then use the information to recommend policies for reducing the likelihood that the United States experiences the type of homegrown terrorism seen recently in Europe . . .

. . . Center researchers will seek to learn from the responses of four American Muslim communities to radical Islamic movements across the globe, said Charles Kurzman, a UNC associate professor of sociology and co-principal investigator in the project. With another co-principal investigator, Ebrahim Moosa, associate professor of Islamic studies at Duke, and graduate students, Kurzman and Schanzer will study Muslim communities in Buffalo, Houston, Seattle and the Triangle.
Click on the link above for the full story. The story is also covered in today's News and Observer.

Library Repair Causes a Plea to the Pope

The New York Times recently published the following story which quotes from Lucas Van Rompay:

Library Repair Causes a Plea to the Pope
ROME, June 21 — Normally a sanctuary of scholarly meditation, the Vatican Library has been the scene of unusually hectic activity lately, as word has spread that it will close in July for a three-year renovation.

Since the Vatican announced the impending shutdown, dozens of scholars have been lining up each day at ever earlier hours to snatch one of the 92 available spots in the manuscript room, where they can pore over archaic texts in forgotten languages. The library staff, traditionally prompt in responding to requests, has been struggling to keep up with the demand.

“We’re kept waiting like the virgins in the Gospel for their bridegroom to come,” Lucas Van Rompay, a professor of religion from Duke University who specializes in Eastern Christianity, said jokingly. He was referring to Jesus’ Parable of the 10 Virgins, a lesson on maintaining faith, after two particularly frustrating mornings of his own. “It’s getting worse every day.” . . . .

. . . . Petitions addressed to Pope Benedict XVI, the ultimate authority on Vatican matters, are circulating among scholars. Some ask that the manuscript division at least remain accessible to the public during the three-year renovation. Others request that the closing be delayed until 2008 so that scholars will have time to wrap up research and meet publishing or teaching deadlines.

The Pope is scheduled to visit the library on Monday, according to Ambrogio Piazzoni, the library’s vice prefect. “He wants to understand what’s going on,” he said in an interview . . . . .

.. . . . . “Why don’t they separate what is unique from what’s not unique?” asked Professor Van Rompay, who is preparing a catalog of Syriac manuscripts originating at the Monastery of the Syrians in the Egyptian desert. The most ancient of the 900 Syriac manuscripts owned by the Vatican came from this monastery, and 34 barely survived an 18th-century boat accident that left them water-damaged.

For him, handling the original objects is not only preferable but also critical. “There are times where you can’t distinguish between a dot on a letter or an insect that just plopped on the page,” he said. “If I am going to publish a text, I need to see it.” . . . . .

. . . . . Professor Van Rompay said that the Vatican should find some way to provide access to the original texts during construction. “There’s no doubt that the restorations at the Vatican are urgent and important, but this is the most drastic approach they could have chosen,” he said. “In the modern world it must be possible to find another solution.”

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Another Ossuary Story: The Tomb of Jesus

On 4 March 2007, Discovery Channel broadcast a documentary entitled The Lost Tomb of Jesus. The following essay, previously unpublished, presents Prof. Eric Meyers's initial thoughts on the alleged discovery.

Another Ossuary Story: The Tomb of Jesus

The latest discovery of the so-called “Tomb of Jesus” sounds very familiar to a story that made headlines in 2002 when in November at the Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in Toronto, a plenary session was hastily convened only weeks in advance to assess the dramatic announcement, presented to the public shortly before the meeting, concerning the James Ossuary, the so-called reburial box for the bones of the brother of Jesus. That announcement, sponsored by the Biblical Archaeological Society, brought the owner of the ossuary, Oded Golan, defending the authenticity of the ossuary and its inscription, to the unprecedented attention of the interested public. I was one of the early skeptics, for I questioned whether the latter part of the inscription was original or had been added. Today, the consensus would seem to be that that the “brother of Jesus” portion was added to an original inscription that read only “James son of Joseph;” and Golan is standing trial in Israel today accused of antiquities fraud. I was also critical of the fact that the artifact was unprovenanced, its place of origin unknown, and hence should not have been given the kind of reception and regard it instantly achieved when the Royal Ontario Museum signed on and planned a show on such short notice.

I begin with this old news because both the documentary (the Discovery film) as well as the book by Simcha Jacobovici and Charles Pellegrino, The Jesus Family Tomb, claim that the James ossuary came from the so-called tomb of Jesus in Talpiot and that patina tests they arranged prove it to be so. This claim is strongly denied by the excavator, Professor Amos Kloner, one time chief archaeologist for Jerusalem, along with many of his Israeli colleagues, who says the ossuary does not match the original dimensions of that ossuary and could not have come from the Talpiot tomb excavated by him nearly 27 years ago and published in 1996. Kloner also rejects all claims that this could be the ancestral tomb of Jesus of Nazareth and his family. Golan, however, has testified that he purchased the James ossuary in the early 1970’s before the antiquities law forbidding such inscribed purchases changed in 1978. It has been a mainstay of his defense and now we have the book and film claiming otherwise to strengthen the case for authenticating the contents of the tomb from Talpiot and associating them with the family of Jesus.

This is the kind of drama that seems to play out on television every year before Easter, beginning with the requisite news conference, this time at the New York Public Library. Serious scholarly claims of this sort are not usually made in such a manner. If the theories embedded in the film and books are correct, they have serious repercussions for Christianity. One of the most provocative is that Jesus’s skeletal remains were in fact reburied as much as a year later after his flesh had wasted away, which as many theologians have pointed has huge implications for understanding the resurrection in any literal way. Are we to believe that the empty tomb traditions of the New Testament are untrue and that Jesus’s body was conveyed from the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, buried elsewhere, and then reburied in a tomb in the southernmost tip of Jerusalem, thus contradicting New Testament sources? Also, the claim based on new DNA studies that Jesus and Mary Magdalene (Mariamene on the ossuary) are not related and could have enjoyed a very intimate relationship hints at Jesus’s relationship with women about which there is no agreement at all among scholars and which requires a much better and more sensitive treatment and does not warrant such sensationalist and provocative claims.

This is not to say that we should dismiss out of hand all of the claims James Cameron and Simcha Jocobovici and the co-author of the book Charles Pellegrino make in film and book: but when claims so large as those being made are presented to the public in the manner in which they have come to us, the public has a right to be suspicious. The archaeological community is deeply skeptical; the religious community is deeply skeptical; and the biblical studies community is skeptical and downright suspicious as well. As many of us found out during the original James ossuary fiasco, there was plenty of money to be found in the bone box metaphorically speaking: but the ones who got the money were the ones who would listen to few critics. Jacobvici strongly pushed the authenticity of the James ossuary in his documentary on it, and he now contends that it comes from the Talpiot tomb and not from Silwan as Oded Golan, the owner, has claimed all along.

Many voices have been heard on the Internet about the statistics and probability of all these names occurring in a single tomb. We assume that they were common Jewish names and are well attested in the first century. The fact is, however, we do not have a solid database from which to draw. Only a fraction of all the tombs in the Land of Israel from this period have been excavated let alone published. Why should we rely solely on Jerusalem tombs and inscriptions? Many inscribed materials have been illicitly excavated and are in collector’s hands or in antiquities shops in the Old City of Jerusalem and around the world. Since I do not know the database that each blogger is using regarding names, or whether they are using attested names in only inscribed materials or relating it to other corpora of contemporary literature, it is difficult to know how to assess the work of the statistician hired by the team. The statistician is well regarded but is not a specialist in Jewish names of the first century in ancient Palestine. Besides, the book has not even been released yet; and the film will only air next Sunday, March 4th. Can’t we the public wait until we have the opportunity to see them?

Jesus’s hometown was surely Nazareth in Galilee, and Joseph’s ancestral home was Bethlehem. Aside from the empty tomb traditions, the whole question of the burial and reburial of Jesus’s remains requires a fuller and more serious discussion. Reburial in an ossuary, which was common Jewish practice at that time, would place Jesus in the mainstream of a custom that is more familiar to Jerusalem than to Galilee. In any event, the renewed attention to one such tomb for the reburial of the remains of family members is not all that bad. Let us hope that this increased attention to the little- known Talpiot tomb will lead at least some to investigate more fully all of its contents and their social and religious context.

Eric M. Meyers
Duke University
See further the following article:

Jesus Tomb: Reasons to be Skeptical
Eric Meyers, On Faith (Washington Post / Newsweek)

For further discussion of the Talpiot tomb, see also Mark Goodacre's NT Gateway blog: Talpiot Tomb.

Friday, May 18, 2007

On Writing Muscle

Writing can sometimes become an obsession. That is when you cannot get down to do the writing. At times it is one of the hardest things to do. As an educator, I have to double check myself when one often as a matter of routine insist on students submitting their work in writing. Good writing and creative writing can be very demanding. Academic writing has its own conventions and styles. Increasingly I find the best writing to be without jargon, yet profound. Although I also recognize that jargon is shorthand in order to communicate very complex ideas and eases discussion within an in-group where people understand and share the common language.

But to write profoundly requires a mastery of the craft of writing. It also means one is reading the work of accomplished authors and learning from their styles and methods. Stephan Jay Gould, for instance, with his simplicity of style managed to communicate effectively with his readers. I still find William H. Gass to be one of the most profound writers, who can weave complex ideas from Nietzsche's philosophy to Holderlin's hymns into digestible prose. In fact, I envy his skill and talent.

To become a writer one would profit to heed the advice of Gail Sher in One Continuos Mistake: Four Noble Truths for Writers. Sher writes:

1. Writers write.
2. Writing is a process
3. You don't know what your writing will be until the end of the process. (I thought it was only me!)
4. If writing is your practice, the only way to fail is not to write.

This is very true. Sher cites the poet John Ashberry who once told an interviewer, "It's important to try and write when you are in the wrong mood or the weather is wrong. Even if you don't succeed you'll be developing a muscle that may do it later."

Well the weather is cool today and my mood, well, I have been struggling all morning to get to my writing. So blogging is one way to develop a writing muscle.

Welcome to the Religion Department Blog

This new blog is for news, events and views from the Department of Religion at Duke University. It is authored by the members the department. We hope to post regularly to this blog and we would welcome your comments about anything you would like to see here.