“Let’s Take the Text Seriously”

The Protectionist Doxa of Mainstream New Testament Studies

In: Method & Theory in the Study of Religion
Stephen L. Young Department of Philosophy and Religion, Appalachian State University Boone, NC US

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Mainstream New Testament Studies is often a space of repeating, elaborating on, identifying with, or valorizing the voices of NT writings. These common features of NT Studies resemble what scholars in Religious Studies refer to as protectionism: the privileging of a source’s own claims to such an extent that interpreters let them dictate academic analysis. Through examining debates about NT sources and both Greco-Roman ethnic rhetorics and Hellenistic philosophy, this article argues that protectionism structures the doxa of mainstream NT Studies—the commonsense that shapes what is thinkable and what questions / categories feel the most obvious. The field’s protectionism often manifests itself in confused rhetoric about “taking the text seriously” and in the invalidating of scholarship that does something other than describe (i.e., “exegesis”) or elaborate upon NT writings. Protectionism thus helps explain the gendered hierarchies of knowledge in NT Studies: “exegesis” and supposedly “objective Historical-Criticism” are dominant norms that reproduce the field as a masculine dominated space. As a result, critical and redescriptive research—especially by or about women—gets passed over since it seems “niche” or “political / agenda” driven by comparison. Interrogating the protectionism of NT Studies thus permits rethinking the politics of what kinds of scholarship seem the most obvious.

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