WILSON, N.C. — July 10, 2015 — Ten international scholars recently converged on the Barton College campus in Wilson to attend the Third Annual Scholars Conversation hosted by the College’s Center for Religious Studies, under the direction of Dr. Rodney A. Werline, Professor and Marie and Leman Barnhill Endowed Chair of Religious Studies.
Attendees for the scholars’ event included Dr. Angela Kim Harkins, the Marie Currie International Incoming Fellow, University of Birmingham, United Kingdom (Ph.D., University of Notre Dame), Dr. Loren T. Stuckenbruck from Ludwig Maximilian University, Munich, Germany (Ph. D., Princeton Theological Seminary), Dr. Jeremy Penner from University of Helsinki (Ph.D., McMaster University), Dr. Daniel K. Falk from Penn State University (Ph.D., University of Cambridge), Dr. Richard Sarason from Hebrew Union College—Jewish Institute of Religion (Ph.D. Brown University), Dr. Laura Lieber from Duke University (Ph.D., University of Chicago), Dr. Jennie Garillo from Duke Divinity School (Ph.D, University of Oxford), Dr. Kelley Coblentz-Bautch from St. Edward’s University (Ph.D. University of Notre Dame), and Dr. Francis Flannery from James Madison University (Ph.D., The University of Iowa). Two other past participants, Dr. Judith Newman from the University of Toronto (Ph.D., Harvard University) and Anathea Portier-Young from Duke Divinity School (Ph.D., Duke University) were unable to attend this year as a result of scheduling conflicts.
For the past three years, the Scholars Conversation at Barton College has focused on early Jewish and Christian prayer texts—from the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Apocrypha, Dead Sea Scrolls, Pseudepigrapha, New Testament, rabbinic literature, and 2nd-4th century Christian literature. The participants are asked to present research ideas related to this topic that are in beginning stages. Thus, in their presentations, each scholar takes about 20 minutes to present observations about a particular prayer or group of prayers and his or her preliminary assessment of aspects of the text. An open 25-minute discussion follows.
“Dr. Norval Kneten, former president of Barton College, presented this distinctive format to me and encouraged its use as our plans to host such an event for the Center for Religious Studies evolved,” explained Werline. “He wanted to establish a setting in which scholars participated in meaningful discussion with one another and did not simply read the results of their research to one another. From the beginning, the goal has been to provide a setting that nourishes new ideas.”
Werline added, “During the first year of the meeting, I had to reassure the scholars several times that, indeed, they were to present their initial thoughts and theories about a prayer text and not the final, polished product. At first, without a manuscript in hand, which is the way conferences usually proceed, everyone felt as if they were working without a net—it was quite daunting. However, the format has proven to generate so much conversation that I must inevitably interrupt the discussions so that we can move on to the next presentation.”
To the best of Dr. Werline’s knowledge, such a format does not—or rarely—exists in this area of scholarship. Dr. Werline mused that one of the attendees said the experience was like her best memories of graduate studies, but without the stress, and the participants have much larger bibliographies in their heads.
The fruitful discussions have already resulted in the publication of several scholarly articles or will soon become portions of books. Further, one of the past participants, Dr. Judith Newman, used the same format when she hosted a conversation at Emmanuel College in the University of Toronto at the end of the fall 2014 semester.
“A few of the attendees have begun to ask if there is a way to team with Barton College and host the event at their institution at some point in the future. So, perhaps Barton College will be working with another university in the U.S., Canada, or Europe to jointly co-host the event in the future. These possibilities sound wonderful,” noted Werline. Finally, while the conference does not address matters of contemporary faith, it is worth noting that the group includes both Jewish and Christian scholars.
The Scholars Conversation is only one aspect of the work of the Barton College Center for Religious Studies. The Center has recently received the first portion of a $36,700 grant from NetVUE and Council of Independent Colleges to establish a program to help students reflect on meaning and purpose in their future vocations. That work has already started, but will gain momentum now that the grant funding has arrived.
Also, the Center works with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in North Carolina to provide programming to assist local congregations. This past spring, the Center began the School for Congregational Leadership, which will provide the educational component for an apprentice-track toward ordination in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and the College moved the E.G. Purcell, Jr., Bible Conference and the Thedford G. and Woodrow W. Sprinkle Lecture to the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) North Carolina Regional Assembly, where over 150 people attended each lecture this year. For more information on the Center for Religious studies, visit https://www.barton.edu/center-for-religious-studies/.
For additional information about the Scholars Conversation or the Center for Religious Studies at Barton College, please contact Dr. Rodney A. Werline at 252-399-6447 or firstname.lastname@example.org.