For Immediate Release: December 19, 2006
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Group to launch new
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Amherst, New York (December 19, 2006)—-The Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion (CSER), a project of the Center for Inquiry/Transnational, will host a landmark conference on critical Biblical and Qur’anic research at the University of California at Davis on January 25–28 of 2007. The conference is being co-sponsored by the Department of Religious Studies at the University. Titled “Scripture and Skepticism,” the conference will explore the legacy of skepticism and historical-critical interpretation in the study of religious texts, founders and ideas.
“This era of heightened religious sensitivity and neo-fundamentalism is threatening our ability to objectively and critically examine the sacred texts of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam,” said CSER chair, R. Joseph Hoffmann. Historical-criticism emerged during the Enlightenment as a new way of interpreting religious texts that involved questioning the traditional understanding of the writings, as well as the authorship and dating of the texts themselves. In recent years, however, historical-criticism has been de-emphasized in favor of faith-commitments, theology, or literary experiments such as Postmodernism. The aim of the conference is to explore the grounds for this accelerating disuse of skeptical, historical-critical methods. Hoffmann argues, “How can the public trust that they are getting an objective illustration of historical fact from their clergy when critics are being silenced in our universities and seminaries across the country?”
“We have assembled a stunning group of scholars for this occasion, all of whom have made landmark contributions to the understanding of the Bible, the Qur’an, and their contexts,” said Hoffmann. Among the presenters are: Gerd Lüdemann, Adela Yarbro Collins, Andrew Rippin, James Tabor, Alfred-Louis de Prémare, Richard E. Rubenstein, Paul Kurtz, and Ibn Warraq. An awards banquet will also honor some leading lions in the field, such as John Dominic Crossan, Elaine, Pagels, and David Noel Freedman.
The conference will also initiate “The Jesus Project,” which will be devoted to examining the case for the historical existence of Jesus based on a rigorous application of historical critical methods to the gospels and related literature. Unlike the “Jesus Seminar,” founded in 1985 by the late Professor Robert Funk of the University of Montana, the new Seminar regards the claim that Jesus of Nazareth was an historical figure as a “testable hypothesis.” Hoffmann said that the project has been called for by a number of scholars who felt that the first Jesus Seminar may have been—for political reasons—too reluctant to follow where the evidence led. Declared Hoffmann, “When you have pared the sayings of Jesus down to fewer than twenty, one begins to wonder about the survivors. Moreover, the Jesus Seminar was not successful in papering over fatal disputes about the authenticity of even those.” According to Hoffmann, the goal is not to “disprove” Jesus or to sensationalize the question of his existence, but to acknowledge the question and examine it impartially—without theological or apologetic constraints. CSER will publish the results of the new Seminar’s work through an agreement with Prometheus Books of Amherst, New York.
Paul Kurtz, the chairman and founder of the Center for Inquiry and Prometheus Books, summed up the significance of these new endeavors when he said, “The public is largely unaware of the rich tradition of Biblical and Qur’anic criticism, which has existed for over 200 years. We need to make these findings available to all who wish to obtain a more critical and scientific explanation of the development of the world’s great religions.”