In spite of the horrific costs of postgraduate study in the UK, I am so pleased that Durham is where I have ended up. I am biased, of course. But bias might actually be a criterion for truthfulness—sometimes the only accurate portrayals are not the “objective” views from outsiders, but the subjective view from insiders.
(On that statement one could wax on and on with an exciting theology of hermeneutics, by the way— biased insiders are, for the most part, the “implied readers” of Scripture).
The strengths of Durham’s Dept. of Theology are widely recognized. From an insider’s perspective, there are some less known elements at play that increase my thankfulness for being here.
For one, there is a sincere and energetic agenda of strengthening the academic skills of us postgrads. Some serious thinking and evaluation is at work as faculty members wonder how they can make us better scholars and address our potential weaknesses. This agenda is not enacted in a heavy-handed way. Instead, the faculty are sacrificially making themselves more available in an array of opportunities which are simply there should we choose to take advantage of the offerings.
Here are examples. Our NT Seminar meets not fortnightly (every other week) like most in the UK, but weekly. And Prof. Francis Watson (the seminar convener and my supervisor) has added a skills development dimension. Every other week we have paper presentations (the standard fare of postgraduate seminars in the UK), but on the alternative weeks there are training sessions in reading primary texts, open only to postgrads and faculty. This means that every other week we NT doctoral and masters students are reading ancient texts with expert ancient-text-readers. For this term (Michaelmas), our training sessions are dedicated to textual criticism. In effect, we will have experienced something akin to a doctoral level seminar on text-critical reading of the Greek New Testament.
In addition to the NT seminar, an impressive host of language reading groups are on offer. Our faculty have quite a breadth in linguistic competencies, and they are making themselves available so that we can choose to meet them in small groups to read Hebrew, Aramaic, Coptic, Greek, French, etc.
Also worth mentioning is the new Integrated PhD program, just initiated. The standard US PhD program is 4-5 years with heavy emphases on doctoral level coursework and language study built into them. The 3-year UK program, on the other hand, expects the competencies gained from language study and coursework to be developed before entering doctoral level research.
Times are changing, so that expectation has proven to be a bit too optimistic. Many of us begin with an array of linguistic and research weaknesses, a situation that has at times drawn criticism from Americans who have managed to get one of the rare PhD slots in the elite US schools. Durham is addressing these perceived weaknesses with vigor. And this new integrated PhD program (4 years) allows an extra year of work on the front end of doctoral research so that these potential areas of scholarly weakness can be mitigated.
Below is the schedule for this term’s NT Seminar. I’m glad I have a seat at the conference table.
8 October | Prof Walter Moberly, “Biblical Hermeneutics and Ecclesial Responsibility”
*15 October | Prof Francis Watson, “Textual Criticism and NT Exegesis (1): Matthew [selected passages]”
22 October | Dr Rainer Hirsch-Luipold (University of Berne), “John and the Religious Philosophy of his Time”
23 October | Dr Rainer Hirsch-Luipold, “Plutarch’s Religious Philosophy and the New Testament” (DCC Seminar Room, 1.30-3.00)
*29 October | Prof John Barclay, “Textual Criticism and NT Exegesis (2) Luke”
5 November | Dr Helen Bond (University of Edinburgh), “Dating the Death of Jesus: Memory and the Religious Imagination”
*12 November Dr Lutz Doering, “Textual Criticism and NT Exegesis (3): John”
19 November | NO SEMINAR
26 November | tba
*3 December | Dr Jane Heath, “Textual Criticism and NT Exegesis (4): Acts”
10 December | Prof Larry Hurtado (University of Edinburgh), “Interactive Diversity: A Proposed Model of Christian Origins”