on sbl affiliation with bibliobloggers

SBL Biblioblog Badge

SBL Biblioblog Badge

this post began as a response to chris heard and doug magnum‘s skepticism about the new affiliation between the sbl and the previously loosely-affiliated group of scholars that blog about religion and the bible called the ‘bibliobloggers.’ there have been many responses, both positive and negative (and funny). my response began as a few comments on some postings, but grew and grew until i figured i should make it into a blog post of its own.

blogging is continuing to gain legitimacy as a means of scholarly communication. at first, it was considered a novelty. then, like the internet itself, it gained legitimacy as more and more legitimate entities adopted the technology. remember when brick-and-mortar companies finally caught up with online startups and adopted internet presences? first corporations said it was a fad for teenagers. then, as those teenagers began to purchase those corporations with their newly-found millions, established corporations began not only to take notice, but began to develop (or acquire) internet presences of their own.

the same is true for scholarship. the self-publishing format of blogging was suspect at first because there was no peer-review and because the power structures of the establishment could not control it. but now that nearly every university and department has some sort of web presence or blog, and that several well-established scholars have adopted blogging and message groups as ways of disseminating preliminary information (and have some fun doing so), the technology is finally gaining some favor with the academy.

as usual, the academy is behind the times when it comes to adopting new technologies. but as it catches up, its members will buoy the credibility of the vehicle. likewise, the adoption of blogging by the academy will buoy those pioneers that blazed the trail for scholars on the internet. many of those pioneers who have been blogging about scholarship since the beginning have made names for themselves as pioneers (like grand master flash was to rap and south carolina governor mark sanford was to ‘hiking the appalachian trail.’) these scholar/bloggers have the experience and the marketing know-how to teach the intricacies of blogging (and yes, there are many) to other scholars.

this new sbl affiliation lends further legitimacy to scholarly blogging, and allows the bibliobloggers to do physically at an annual meeting what they cannot do virtually throughout the rest of the year: sit together, meet each other, welcome new voices, catch up on personal matters, and share ideas – just like every other section at sbl.

like every other sbl group, some will jump in head first, some will participate, some will watch, some will complain, and some will even object because they feel that they were not consulted in the planning stages of the new association. some bloggers turned to blogging in the first place because they could not find their place in the existing academic structure. and now that bibliobloggers are becoming a legitimate entity within the eyes of the academy, some bloggers will object for the same reason they turned to blogging in the first place: they reject authority, structure, affiliation, and organization in any form. and yet, affiliation withe the sbl will help all bibliobloggers, whether one participates or not, because affiliation lends legitimacy to the vehicle of blogging, which is good for all bloggers.

whether one chooses to participate or not, formal affiliation with the sbl will benefit all bibliobloggers. so, regardless of how one feels about the affiliation, we should be grateful for the efforts of those that pioneered this new field, and we should be thankful that some have taken strides towards helping to raise the level of legitimacy of this new, technologically-driven field of study in which we are all involved, affiliated or not.

21 Responses

  1. Eloquently put, Bob.

    But a serious question about the “academic legitimacy” aspect of your reply: do you, personally, esteem Seventh-Day Adventist biblical scholars or Pentecostal biblical scholars more highly than you otherwise would if the Adventist Society for Religious Studies or the Society for Pentecostal Studies did not have “affiliated organization” status with the Society of Biblical Literature?

    And a second, serious question: if Fred Phelps starts a blog, posts about the Bible, and pays SBL dues, he’s eligible to put the “Bilblioblog/SBL Affiliate” badge on his blog. Do you really want to grant academic legitimacy to Fred Phelps or any other dilettante who happens to pay SBL dues and slap a JPEG on his sidebar?

  2. chris,

    the beauty of public media is that anyone can say anything. i’m not into stifling speech, but i am into correcting/countering unsustainable claims. there are plenty of nuts that belong to sbl, just as there are plenty of nutballs that have phds from papermill universities. my job is not to publicly critique anyone that claims to belong to an organization. with a few dollars and a filled-out form, anyone can join just about anything.

    the idea is to form a loosely-organized organization of like-minded scholars dedicated to discussing religion and the bible online. it’s kind of like the churches of christ, except we allow women to fully participate (even though there aren’t nearly as women bibliobloggers as there could be). like any other organization, each member is judged on his or her own merits and credibility. while there are some outliers in every organization, sometimes an organizational shell is more beneficial than detrimental.

    blogging is by nature a fiercely independent endeavor. but there needs to be some internal structure to at least formally speak for and represent biblioblogging to the rest of the academy. right now, anyone can claim to be a biblical archaeologist, present oneself as a legitimate entity, and go on television and lie to the public. asor is presently assembling a committee to deal with pseudo-scientists and fake scholars claiming to speak for archaeology. likewise, while many will claim to be bibliobloggers, the affiliated group will be charged with promoting and refuting the claims made by those blogging on the internet who claim to speak for scholars.

    besides, everyone knows you are a biblioblogger whether you claim denominational status or not ;-)


  3. the fred phelps line of thought is so patently a red herring. phelps would no more join the sbl than mary winkler would confess to hating her husband enough to kill him.

  4. Bob: this is a great piece.

    In regard to Chris’ comment/question. . . I earnestly agree that there is a need to maintain academic respectability. Chris, I hear you. But, as Bob points out, there are ALREADY some pretty silly people associated with SBL! I honestly don’t see how an affiliation with bibliobloggers who are already members of SBL is much more problematic then their actual membership. If they are nutters, they won’t be read . . . unless they are just too hilarious to not be used as illustrations for students of what not to do!

  5. At least Bob get’s the humor of an affiliation for those who don’t want to be affiliated.

    Excellent piece, Bob.

    And Phelps could be a bibliblogger, Todd Bentley is.

  6. […] Bob Cargill has posted some nice comments here. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Additions to SBL ForumApril SBL ForumTwo New […]

  7. […] such a kerfuffle? With parallel discussions happening in comment threads here at Higgaion and on Bob Cargill’s blog, it’s hard to know where to continue the conversation. I probably should just drop it, but I […]

  8. Jim: It’s not a red herring at all, but an example of why the Biblioblog/SBL Affiliate tag, if used to seek academic legitimacy/respectability, nets zero gains for the seeker.

    Michael, the problem only arises if someone tries to use the affiliation to gain academic respectability. Since membership in the SBL rests solely on paying monetary dues, such membership really doesn’t say anything about a member other than an indication of the member’s interests. It doesn’t actually tell you that the member is a good biblical scholar or should be accorded “academic respectability.” The Biblioblogger/SBL affiliate tag functions the same way. Sure, it’s absolutely harmless. But it’s also absolutely meaningless in terms of conferring “academic respectability.”

    Jim West says the whole point is simply to organize a program unit at the SBL meeting, and that’s fine (though, in my opinion, it’s like a BMW owner lusting after an Oldsmobile—blogging out-conferences conferences any day, and all year long). But I do worry that some bloggers will use the badge to seek dividends that won’t actually be paid. See my latest on Higgaion for a hypothetical example.

  9. Great post, Bob. Hope to add my own thoughts if I can get the energy. My basic feeling about this business is that I see the affiliation as — at best — a continuation of the the dynamism that characterises the best of the blog world anyway — fun, chaotic, silly, serious, argumentative, collaborative, full of agreement and disagreement in equal measure. In other words, we’ll suck it and see. If nothing good comes of it, what have we lost? If it provides a means of doing useful things in the guild, all strength to our arm. I find it difficult to see the downside on this one, and very easy to see the possible advantages.

  10. Oh yes, I wanted to add that one of the issues that Jim and I discussed with respect to the affiliate arrangement is the possibility that any old idiot could join the SBL and choose to display the badge. We decided that, on balance, we could just check up on that problem if / when it occurs. One of the advantages of the affiliation is that we can review it as time goes on.

  11. agreed. membership in good standing is a possibility.

  12. Thanks for the informative post, Bob. I think I understand better now what this affiliation thing is all about and what the benefits will be. I went ahead and took the plunge earlier today and posted the SBL affiliate badge on my sidebar.

  13. “Oh yes, I wanted to add that one of the issues that Jim and I discussed with respect to the affiliate arrangement is the possibility that any old idiot could join the SBL and choose to display the badge. We decided that, on balance, we could just check up on that problem if / when it occurs. One of the advantages of the affiliation is that we can review it as time goes on..”

    Ah yes, censorship and control. It rears its ugly head before the affiliation is even sanctioned.

  14. […] this fine post, go here (and be sure to read the ever growing number of comments […]

  15. Actually, the review process for getting on BibTop50 is just slightly tougher than joining SBL. Someone else actually has to affirm the nature of the blog (though not its quality).

    Bob said: “the affiliated group will be charged with promoting and refuting the claims made by those blogging on the internet”

    I reply: “Promise?” :-)

  16. […] for the one genuine negative that I see. Bob Cargill said in his post, “affiliation lends legitimacy to the vehicle of blogging.” This can be a problem when […]

  17. […] Dr. Robert Cargill’s prestigious blog, Chris Heard brought up the point about the SBL-Biblioblogger affiliation: And a second, serious […]

  18. Thank you, kind sir.

  19. […] new alliance between the biblioblogers and the SBL is certainly the topic of heated discussion (a nice and neat breakdown can be found here. Jim, ever active, having founded this […]

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