Thursday, September 27, 2007

Symposium on the Theological Interpretation of Scripture

Tonight I attended the first session of North Park Theological Seminary's Symposium on the Theological Interpretation of Scripture. I loved the symposium in my seminary days. I would generally prepared myself to engage each presenter. Not infrequently (as I remember it) I ended up arguing with some well known Biblical and Theological scholars. Always great fun. For a variety of reasons even though I have continued to live in Chicago the entire 6 years since my graduation this is the first time I have been able to attend the symposium.

Six years out of seminary and attending the symposium is a very different experience. As a student I was up on much if not most of the latest scholarship. Now I have to admit that there is much going on in the academy with which I am not familiar. So in part I am anticipating getting a glimpse of what is going on, at least for the scholars in attendance and presenting papers and responses to papers. But also, I am coming with a very different set of experiences, and am carrying with me to this symposium the concerns and lives of those for whom I am pastor and spiritual director.

It was a little odd this evening to listen to the first paper presented by Boaz Johnson of North Park University, and not be focusing on every step of the argument, nor focusing on a critique of the way in which the thesis was supported, but to focus on how the topic and its presentation fit with the life of the congregation I pastor and the theological issues that present themselves. Its not that now I am unconcerned with how the paper was argued or how the thesis was supported (or not supported) in the paper, but that other thought processes, more mediative perhaps, were happening at the same time as an evaluation of the argument and thesis of the paper. It was a little odd to feel so reflective as opposed to critical(in the positive and academic sense of that term, not the popular and negative sense).

Boaz Johnson presented a paper on the Biblical interpretation of the Indian theologian and Biblical translator, Pandita Ramabai. The subtitle of the paper is "A neglected pioneer Indian Christian Feminist Theologian." Her Biblical interpretation and translation had from me particular interest as Reconciler over the past year has been having some conversation on gender and language and there has been a little bit of debate on the pastoral team around issues of Feminist theology. So I found myself wanting to sit down and have a conversation with Boaz after he presented his paper, about Pandita Ramabai, but found it impossible to formulate a question for him to answer about his paper.

One thing of particular interest in his presentation of the interpretation and translation of Ramabai, was her respect for the Biblical narrative as normative and as liberative for Women and the lower casts in India (a contrast to many western feminists), but that she did not use Sanskrit for her interpretation, but went to pre-vedic language and narratives in translating the Bible. Much of the discussion over the paper centered on this, so I was not alone in finding this of great interest. Thus, at least as Boaz presented her position, she did not have a problem or take issue with Biblical language or narrative as inherently patriarchal, but her own culture and the language of higher casts. From Ramabai it was obvious that the Biblical language(s) and narrative(s) were liberative. Because of this she sought to find a language and words that were less laden with patriarchy than Sanskrit. I can't quite imagine a parallel for English, but Pandita Ramabai's approach to the text of Scripture and its language is startling different from many Western and American Feminist Theologians who seem to see so much of the bibles language and narrative as corrupted by patriarchy, and not just that of the surrounding cultural elites and their language and naratives.

I think and there seemed to be a consensus from all who took part in the discussion and as well as the respondent Amanda Mbuvi, that the theology and Biblical interpretation of Pandita Ramabai could prove fruitful for not only Indian theology but for theology in the States and the West.