by Adrian Thatcher

Will I find the conference relevant?

Yes. 2011 is the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Bible,  or 'Authorised Version'. Modern Church believes that knowing how to read the Bible is just as important as knowing what is in it. So we have designed our 2011 annual conference to focus upon how Christians in the present are to be imaginative, faithful readers of the scriptures.

We will face up to the embarrassment many parts of the Bible continue to cause us. We will avoid nostalgia for a past era of Christendom.  We will not make exaggerated claims for the Bible or allow literalist readings of it to impair our understanding and harm our souls. Instead we will seek new ways of engaging with the Bible and letting it engage with us.

Who will I hear and what will they be saying?

You will hear outstanding presenters. Our line-up provides an enviable balance between women and men, and between internationally known theologians with an established reputation for scholarship and communication with their audiences, and distinguished younger theologians who will bring fresh counsel, energy and insights to the conference.

The Revd. Prof. John Barton is Oriel and Laing Professor  of the Interpretation of Holy Scripture at the University of Oxford. The latest of his many books is The Bible, The Basics (Routledge).  He will speak on The New Atheism: Reflections of a Biblical Scholar.  Answers to the 'new atheism' have come mainly from philosophers and scientists rather than from a humanities perspective, but there is also a possible response from modern biblical study. This has two aspects: first, an examination of the biblical idea of God, showing that Richard Dawkins et al. have the wrong god in their sights; and second, an examination of how we read biblical (and other) texts, suggesting that knowing God is analogous to the knowledge we gain there.

Dr. Susannah Cornwall is Honorary Research Fellow in Theology at  the University of Exeter. Her new book, Sex and Uncertainty in the Body of Christ (Equinox) is published in December 2010. Susannah is currently researching and taking part in a contextual Bible reading project. She will share her experiences of how communal, close, and contextual readings can lead to personal and social transformation, especially for people at the margins of society.

The Revd. Dr. Maggi Dawn is Chaplain and Fellow in Theology at Robinson College, Cambridge. She is the author of The Writing on the Wall: High Art, Popular Culture  and the Bible (Hodder & Stoughton, 2010). She will demonstrate how our literature, art, music, and poetry are built on Christian concepts and biblical references. She will prompt us to think not only about the dependence of culture upon the Bible, but on how the arts themselves open up avenues of biblical interpretation.

Prof. Gerard Loughlin is Professor of Theology and Religion at the University of Durham. Gerard will lead a session on the Bible and film. He will show us how the Bible and 'cinematic texts' can interact together,  so that our reading and our watching may mutually inform each other. Among Gerard's many books is Alien Sex: The Body and Desire in Cinema and Theology (Blackwell, 2004).

Dr. Alison Milbank teaches Theology in the University of Nottingham where she specializes in all aspects of religion and culture, from vampires to Dante. Alison will show us how our reading of the Bible and of literary texts  can interact together, so that our readings of each may mutually inform each other. Her well known book, Chesterton and Tolkien as Theologians (T&T Clark)  was re-printed in 2009. Her latest book, with Andrew Davison, For the Parish:  A Critique of Fresh Expressions (SCM, 2010), has a chapter on renewing the Christian imaginary.

Dr. Francesca Stavrakopoulou is Senior Lecturer in Hebrew Bible at the  University of Exeter. Her most recent book is Land of Our Fathers: The Roles of Ancestor Veneration in Biblical Land Claims (T&T Clark, 2010). Early in 2011 Francesca will present the BBC TV documentary series  The Bible's Buried Secrets. She will present a session, illustrated with excerpts  from her series, entitled God's ex-Wife. This will provide a fresh view of the key stories and figures in the Hebrew Bible, arguing that the history and religion of ancient Israel was very different from its biblical portrayal.

Prof. Christopher Rowland is Dean Ireland's Professor of the Exegesis of Holy Scripture at the University of Oxford. The latest of his many books is  Blake and the Bible (Yale University Press, 2011). By considering a range  of Blake's paintings and engravings on all parts of the Bible, Chris will help us  to understand the enduring value of Blake's biblical hermeneutics  and allow Blake's images to stir our imaginations.

Prof. Adrian Thatcher is Visiting Professor in Theology at the  University of Exeter. He is author of The Savage Text: The Use and Abuse of the Bible (Wiley-Blackwell, 2008). Adrian is Chair of the conference and will give a keynote address.

How will I learn at the conference?

Built into some of the sessions will be time for viewing pictures, watching film,  studying TV programme clips, doing contextual Bible reading together, analyzing  short pieces of literary texts, and doing some theological reflection in small groups,  in a cafeteria-style conference setting. Other sessions will be more conventional lectures with opportunities for questions.


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