Book Note: Schüssler Fiorenza's Democratizing Biblical Studies

Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, Democratizing Biblical Studies: Toward an Emancipatory Educational Space (Louisville: WJKP, 2009).

First, let me begin by saying that (1) I realize I should have read Schüssler Fiorenza's writings ages ago and (2) I realize that reading this one book merely introduces me to her project. Now, let me tell you how this book was challenging, thought provocative, and eye opening to the reality that pedagogy and interpretation go hand-in-hand. As I prepare for my teaching internship with Trinity University, where the New Testament and other writings from early Christianity will be read in a non-confessional, liberal arts context, I recognize that displaying the Bible's relevancy cannot be limited to historicism or deconstruction. If early Christian literature is going to matter it must be shown that historical-critical studies sheds light on the present worth and function of these texts and that deconstructing previously held assumptions about this literature is insufficient if students don't learn how to read it with an eye toward how it might "matter" in public discourse.

In this book the author aims to deconstruct what she calls "malestream" scholarship—the traditional master-student, top-down, product-consumer approach. The teacher as controller and disperser of the knowledge that really matters is wrongheaded. This isn't to say that the scholar doesn't bring important and unique insights to the text that the students cannot access presently, but that this knowledge isn't the only or even most important knowledge. Each reader does approach the text in a different way and their lives should lead them to a holistic, embodied reading of the text that accounts for their own experiences and presuppositions. 

The big "take away" of this book is Schüssler Fiorenza's four paradigms to interpretation and how each are important. These include (1) the religious-the•logical-scriptural paradigm, which one sees in church, synagogue, mosque or seminaries and divinity schools where this literature is read within a confessional context; (2) the critical-scientific-modern paradigm, traditionally promoted by the academy; (3) the cultural-hermeneutic-postmodern paradigm, wherein everything from a Gadamerian horizons hermeneutic to a Derridian deconstructive approach factor into the reader's awareness of their relationship to the text; and (4) the emancipatory-radicial democratic paradigm, where the reader moves past the postmodern project to reading early Christian literature with an eye to readers who have been traditionally marginalized by malestream scholarship in an effort to being intentional about hearing their voices and unique insights into the text.

The book doesn't give a "how-to" approach, as it shouldn't, so it is up to the reader to creatively imagine what this may "look like" in the classroom to create democratic space where all voices matter. Returning to my note above about my internship, I wonder what it will mean to play the role of one who is more informed regarding the historical-critical approach to the New Testament and other early Christian literature while creating a space where students recognize their own positionality in the world and where they shed insight into and from the text based on that positionality. I wonder how that type of classroom functions. Thanks, in part, to Schüssler Fiorenza, I know this is something worth trying to discover.