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Biblical Interpretation and Public Scholarship

Sun, December 16, 4:15 to 5:45pm, Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center, Skyline Room

Session Submission Type: Roundtable


The academic community faces the consistent challenge of transcending the constraints of traditional scholarly outlets to impart knowledge to the public. In the case of Biblical Studies, the challenge proves especially relevant, because of the substantial slice of the general population that is eager to benefit from new ideas about biblical texts, commentary, theology, and ethics and their relationship to contemporary questions concerning religious thought and practice. The complex and technical nature of much writing in the field accentuates the need for serious discussion about methods of communicating valuable material to wider audiences, in devotional settings and otherwise.

The present roundtable discussion seeks to address, in a direct and practical way, how academics might approach the task of making relevant scholarship more accessible to the public. The discussion will address the value of a variety of outlets: books targeted to non-specialists, essays in non-academic publications, lectures and classes in both religious and non-religious settings, organization of events, development of curricula, and especially use of the internet for disseminating material in both oral and written form.

Participants in the roundtable, all of whom have demonstrated success in this regard, represent a variety of perspectives with respect to both scholarly emphasis and the types of media that they have employed to connect with wider audiences. Reuven Kimelman is a sought-after speaker with particular success in online lecturing to wide audiences. Alan Levenson has produced book-length material of notably broad interest and has helped develop programming targeted to both scholars and the laity. Rachel Renz has been involved in adult education in community and online settings and in the development of curriculum. And Benjamin Sommer produces written and oral material, including online, that applies biblical scholarship to issues of contemporary theological and religious interest. The moderator, Yitzhak Berger, has extensive experience in adult education in various settings.


1. What kind of outlets have you employed to help disseminate scholarly material, whether your own or that of others, to the general public? What outlets do you regard to be most effective for this purpose, and how might this change based on the topic and the target audience?

2. What specific methods do you employ to present sophisticated material in an accessible manner? How does this change for different kinds of topics, outlets, and audiences?

3. What are your thoughts concerning the role of academics in this respect? With the understanding that this will vary depending on the individual and the circumstances, to what extent is it proper to sacrifice the production of cutting-edge scholarly work in favor of generating material for wider consumption?

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