Inquisitive Minds Podcast Critical Thinking on History, Religion, Politics and Culture

This is the fourth installment of our discussion of Hector Avalos' book The End of Biblical Studies. This week we focus on the chapters dealing with Literary Criticism (Ch. 5) and Biblical Theology (Ch. 6). Dr. Avalos rightly remarks that, "literary aesthetics are still being used as the handmaiden of apologetics" (p. 220). As for biblical theology, it is truly an impossible enterprise. The Bible contains many theological discourses; so which biblical theology should one embrace? There is no one unified theology; rather, there are many theologies. This is why, "biblical theology is a thoroughly religionist endeavor" (p. 250). 

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This is our third episode dedicated to Hector Avalos' book The End of Biblical Studies. In chapter 3, Prof. Avalos discusses History and Archaeology and remarks that, "at the heart of the entire debate about whether one can write a history of ancient Israel is an epistemological problem that is besetting all of archaeology and history. Historians and archaeologists have lost confidence in examining the past objectively." (p.111). We will also see how biblical scholars face similar problems when it comes to the study of the historical Jesus.

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This week we are continuing our discussion of Hector Avalos', The End of Biblical Studies. We will examine his chapters on Translation and Textual Criticism. Speaking of biblical translation, Prof. Avalos says that "the Bible is best maintained by using translation to hide and distort the original meaning of the text, in order to provide the illusion that the information and values conveyed by the biblical authors are compatible with those of the modern world." (p.37). As for textual criticism, "there is no longer any strong rationale", according to Avalos, "for why textual criticism, as a discipline, should matter to those outside communities of faith, or even to communities of faith themselves." (p.66).

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A fundamentalist reading of the apparitions of Jesus tries to explain the conflicting accounts through harmonization; but the careful and critical reader quickly sees that this is simply an impossible task. These stories are not "historical" in nature, but rather "theological" (or ideological). The gospel writers clearly had an agenda; they wanted to convince people of their point of view. One way Christians sought to legitimize their claims about Jesus was through the use of the Hebrew Bible. In a sense, Jewish texts (but also other Greco-Roman stories) served as templates from which the gospel writers created their own stories about Jesus. In the podcast, we also try to understand belief in the resurrection from a cultural anthropological perspective, and briefly speak of how cognition and culture play a role in religious experience.

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This week on the Inquisitive Minds Podcast, we will start discussing The End of Biblical Studies (Prometheus) by Dr. Hector Avalos, a biblical scholar at the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Iowa State University. 

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Many people say they have received an answer to prayer at some point in their life. Some are convinced that God hears prayer. Christians even believe it can serve as a way to influence God. Through prayer, one can obtain financial success, experience salvation, heal the sick, and defeat the forces of evil. But how can we explain that people from different faith traditions – beliefs that are most often contrary from one another – all claim answers to their prayers? How can God answer different (and opposite) requests at the same time? Do Allah and Yahweh both answer prayers? What about unanswered prayer? Believers certainly pray that God would make the world a better place, but suffering and evil are far from being eradicated. Is there really a divine being listening to people’s requests?

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Many believers think their religion is the ultimate true religion. If people did not believe this to be so, they would probably just convert to another religion. This implies that other religions are wrong. Is there a unique true religion or are all religions true? How can one explain the different beliefs, practices and experiences of various religious traditions in the world? Can religion be understood in terms of culture? What is the role of culture, cognition and embodiment with respect to religion? How is religion to be defined?

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André Gagné and Brice Jones speak about their former religious backgrounds and escape from fundamentalism. Both discuss the social dynamics which shaped their former conversion experience and what has lead them to reconsider some aspects of their beliefs inconsistent with their experience of the world.

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We are happy to announce the launch of a new podcast entitled: Inquisitive MindsCritical Thinking on Religion, History, Culture and Science.

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