Is Philosophical Investigation of the Bible Really Philosophy?
November 22, 2010 — 8:25

Author: Michael Rea  Category: Uncategorized  Tags: , ,   Comments: 12

You might have wondered whether the very useful Philosophy Updates service to which so many of us subscribe and which supplies daily announcements of conferences and calls for papers has principled policies about what sorts of conferences they will and will not announce. It turns out that they do, and it turns out that their policies exclude announcements of conferences like this one, from the Shalem Center in Jerusalem: Philosophical Investigation of Hebrew Bible, Talmud and Midrash. I emailed one of the moderators of Philosophy Updates to find out why they would not announce this conference. I was told that they try to avoid posting ads for conferences that appear to pertain more to theology than to philosophy, and that one part of the policy is to avoid posting ads for conferences that have an explicitly biblical or scriptural focus.
I wonder whether readers of Prosblogion are concerned, as I am, about this policy of excluding what seem to be legitimate (indeed, cutting edge) topics in philosophy of religion. Many of us would like to see philosophy of religion become more interdisciplinary, and also to begin to address a wider variety of philosophical issues arising in connection with religions other than Christianity. Conferences like the one advertised by the Shalem Center are an important part of this new wave. One wonders, too, how many conferences devoted to issues like divine inspiration or meta-theology would survive the cut, since they could easily appear to be ‘too theological’ or ‘too focused on scripture’. No doubt it is a difficult business moderating a service like Philosophy Updates; and the people who have devoted their time–without compensation, as far as I am aware–to that task surely deserve our gratitude. But I, for one, am hopeful that they will find a way to continue what they are doing in a way that would allow them to advertise conferences like this one without taking on too much added burden.

  • Heath White

    I agree with you, Mike. I would hope advertising such conferences would not be much of an added burden; I would also hope that the demarcation policy is not merely the result of disciplinary prejudice. At the very least, perhaps it would help if the selection criteria (whatever they are) were made public.

    November 22, 2010 — 13:58
  • Anonymous

    It makes sense. Didn’t you see the recent Phil-Update advertisement for “Porn – Philosophy for Everyone: How to Think With Kink” (post date: Nov. 19, 2010)? Two questions of the book, as noted in the group post, include:
    • Why are men more willing to accept the authenticity of “porngasms”?
    • What is the voyeuristic appeal of watching celebrity sex tapes?
    Let’s keep Phil-Updates limited to more serious philosophical concerns, Dr. Rea.

    November 22, 2010 — 14:14
  • Mike Fairburn

    We have to be careful IMHO that we don’t give credence to any particular religion and treat any philosophical discussion as just that, and not a thinly veiled attempt to validate one religious ideology or another.

    November 22, 2010 — 19:10
  • @Anonymous,
    I don’t tend to think the philosophy of… porn (??) as being somehow analogous to philosophical investigations surrounding the biblical texts. Philosophical Investigation of Hebrew Bible, Talmud and Midrash seems far more serious philosophically than… you know. The implications surrounding these texts and their historical importance seems to set them far and between from something so trivial as what you mentioned.

    November 22, 2010 — 19:12
  • Dustin Crummett

    Basil, I read anon as being satirical.

    November 22, 2010 — 19:56
  • Anonymous

    That is a very odd response, given that on April 7, 2009, Philosophy Updates allowed a comment advertising a conference entitled “The Bible and Philosophy.”
    My understanding is that all “moderator” decisions and policy for that list are made by Fritz Allhoff. If so, perhaps the decision reflects his personal attitude toward religion.
    In this connection, it may not be entirely irrelevant to point out that for a recent undergraduate class Prof. Allhoff assigned only four texts — one each by Harris, Hitchens, Dawkins, and Dennett.

    November 22, 2010 — 21:15
  • Kevin Timpe

    I know nothing about the decision process behind what gets posted to Phil Updates. But I want to speak to the previous comment about Fritz, which on one reading seems to call into question his character. I’ve interacted with Fritz in a substantial number of ways over the past few years (from interviewing at his department, to a summer NEH institute, to editing a unit on religious belief for a book that he’s putting together). Through all of this, I’ve never seen him be disparaging of religious belief or philosophy of religion, even if that’s not his ‘cup of tea’, as the expression goes.
    That said, it does strike me as odd that the earlier “Bible and Philosophy” conference was announced but the one Mike mentions was denied.

    November 23, 2010 — 5:30
  • Nick Montgomery

    I find it especially strange considering there is serious philosophical work being done related to Talmud and Midrash.
    Two such examples by Eli Hirsch:
    “Identity in the Talmud” in Midwest Studies in Philosophy Vol. 23 (1) 1999
    “Rashi’s view of the Open Future: Indeterminateness and Bivalence.” in Oxford Studies of Metaphysics vol. 2
    Both papers present views from the Talmud and Midrash traditions that have something to contribute to contemporary philosophical discussion. Wouldn’t such work qualify for the conference Dr. Rea mentioned? Aren’t of sufficient quality and not overly theological?

    November 23, 2010 — 7:04
  • Michael Rea

    I don’t know Fritz, but I did talk to him about this issue and he told me that the moderating policies aren’t under his sole control. The conversation was entirely cordial, as well. As for the previous Bible and Philosophy announcement, I was told that the current policy was adopted shortly after that was sent around.

    November 23, 2010 — 7:53
  • Bracketing the religious aspects, there is a large variety of texts outside of philosophy that are ripe for philosophical investigation. It would be silly to exclude a conference on philosophical investigation of Tolstoy or Joyce or Homer or the Romance of the Three Kingdoms or the Notes from the Underground.

    November 23, 2010 — 11:24
  • Anonymous

    The rejection of this conference as philosophy is especially odd in light of the fact that 2010 was an unusually productive year for serious philosophical thought about the Talmud and Midrash. Cambridge, Chicago, and Indiana University Presses published respectively:
    Jacob Howland – Plato and the Talmud
    Daniel Boyarin – Socrates and the Fat Rabbis
    Chaya Halberstam – Law and truth in Biblical and Rabbinic Literature
    All of these would be of interest to those working on Jewish philosophy.

    November 25, 2010 — 18:49
  • Jeremy Pierce

    Considering that I frequently get announcements from that list that are barely philosophy, and this announcement is clearly philosophy (albeit of a historical nature, but then we get announcements about more traditional history of philosophy conferences), it’s very hard for me to see this as anything but a double standard. For the record, I do not consider the porn announcement to be barely philosophy. Those are legitimate philosophical issues. I’m talking about conferences firmly planted in other fields of study that are interdisciplinary enough for the conference-runners to have wanted to invite philosophers to attend.

    November 27, 2010 — 6:36