Thursday, May 3, 2012

Appalled and Angry

I just discovered the lamentable firing of Anthony LeDonne from Lincoln Christian University here.  I met Anthony my first year at Illinois Wesleyan University when his co-biblicist at LCU Chris Keith came to IWU to talk about the demise of the criteria of authenticity through research employing memory studies (see a recent discussion of one of Keith's books here).  Anthony's firing appears to be due to pressure by donors and others because of his quite good popular book on the Historical Jesus.  Ironically, there is to be a conference concerning this research at LCU next fall, though it appears that the organizers are likely to move it in response to LeDonne's unexpected firing (here).

I am quite angry about this.  LeDonne's research is good, responsible, and creative.  He should be rewarded for his work rather than endure mistreatment.  I join with others who offer their hopes that LeDonne will quickly find an institutional home that values his important contributions and gives him the freedom to follow his arguments to their logical conclusions and to follow his creativity.  I already own a copy of the book that is at the center of this controversy; I assign portions of it in my classes.  I suggest that everyone else, too, buys a copy (link above) (1) to support this important scholarship and (2) to find out what good scholars are saying on the forefront of historical Jesus scholarship.  Then pick up his other book.


Ken Schenck said...

It's a horrible specter we all live with, probably more at confessional than secular institutions, although it's there too, I think. The demand is for cheap scholarship that itches the ears of the powerful and popular. Yet somehow we fool ourselves into thinking it's about truth... and our students rush headlong toward doctorates that only lead into the sea.

Rebecca said...

Ken - I teach at a secular institution, and both my teaching and scholarship have been supported by the administration, regardless of where it leads and whether it might offend someone. I think that this kind of firing is far more common at religious institutions, which is one of the reasons I'm glad I don't teach at one.

John Hobbins said...

Thanks, Jared, for drawing attention to this.

I ordered the book on your recommendation. It is a fine, well-written, scholarly work accessible to the general public.

Based on my reading of the book, I am nevertheless not surprised that the book is causing a stir in some circles. It should, shouldn't it?

LeDonne challenges the tacit (not necessarily the real: you will appreciate the distinction) epistemological foundations of broad swathes of Christendom.

Moreover, at least not in the book in question, he does not offer a cogent alternative epistemology whereby a believer in Jesus in the sense of Philippians 2, Romans 1, or John 1, to cite confessional statements from the NT, would have justified belief.

Am I missing something?

LCU's mission statement is plain as punch. Whereas I am convinced that LeDonne is an excellent scholar, it is not clear to me that he was contributing well to the objectives of the institution which hired him unless he also articulated a religious epistemology (a rationale of justified belief) compatible with his findings as a NT scholar.

Since I have some knowledge of the tradition LCU represents, I would add that this would appear from the outside to have been a train wreck just waiting to happen.

Here's hoping that an institution that relates to a more post-modern polity (in the positive sense!) picks up this fine scholar.

Jared Calaway said...

Thanks for your comments, John.

I would say that LeDonne offers a possible new epistemological paradigm based upon memory refraction; that is, once you can identify how different memories have been refracted in different ways, you could develop a new model of historical plausibility. It is an epistemology that goes to the source of understanding: the brain itself and its memory. In some ways, he is allowing aspects that have been along the fringes of historical Jesus research (Gospel of John) back into the discussion (I am thinking of how he brings the Wedding of Cana back into discussion as a memory refraction of a historically plausible reflection on Jesus' relationship wit his mother). You are not going to find any of the great cosmic passages here (like John 1), but that is the case in historical Jesus research more generally; thus, I am not surprised at that. I do wonder, however, if you can expand his scheme as memories are refracted, and refractions are refracted (and blended with other refractions, as well as scriptural exegesis in light of the new circumstances in the decades after Jesus' death) until you get to the cosmic Christ, and reintroduce it that way.

Whether such an alternative epistemology based upon the vagaries of human memory can be aligned with LCU's mission is a matter for debate (and clearly the debate has turned against LeDonne). On the other hand, although this book under question was not written yet when he was hired, his first book (which lays out his framework of memory and perception for a scholarly audience) would have been finished (if not published). LCU should have known who they were hiring, what his research was, etc. As such, there appears to be a division between the administration which did the hiring and those elements (donors, etc.) who felt threatened by his work (as LeDonne's public statement implies).