SBL Auckland

I’m looking forward to going to Auckland for this year’s SBL International Conference. As well as presenting my own paper, I’m looking forward to hearing quite a number of others, to being able to catch up with friends and colleagues whom I don’t see very often and to find out a bit more about Maori culture. The conference begins with a Powhiri (welcome ceremony) at the Marae at Auckland University and I am booked on the Tamaki Hikoi guided tour which introduces Maori culture. When I was in Christchurch last year on my way home from Texas, I was able to get a tiny taste of Maori culture and am really interested to hear more. It is particularly interesting that there are significant similarities between Maori art and the art of the Canadian First Nations people in British Columbia.

I have found the research that I’ve been doing for my paper really fascinating, if slightly “off topic” for my thesis. The topic is “Eyewitness Testimony in Psychological Research: Some Consequences for Richard Bauckham’s Work.” The work I’m referring to is, of course, his Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (Eerdmans, 2006). If you’re interested, you can read the abstract on the SBL conference website.  I didn’t realise just how huge the corpus of psychological eyewitness/memory literature is until I started reading.  You could read until the cows come home and still not be on top of every aspect!

It’s interesting that there is so little cross-pollination between the disciplines.  There are books on memory in oral traditions, on memory and retelling of stories, how culture affects memory, things that psychologists take for granted about eyewitness accounts (or autobiographical/recollective memory) that just don’t appear in the literature of biblical studies.

I know – so many books to read, so little time, but still…


Originality Software

After having huge problems with plagiarism last year, my university implemented TurnItIn originality software in the first semester this year. All text-based work submitted for marking is run through TurnItIn and is given to the marker complete with originality report. Students are able to submit their work to TurnItIn for checking before submitting it for marking, to make sure that they’ve acknowledged their sources correctly. Around the traps it is being referred to as the “anti-plagiarism software” although those in charge insist (rightly) that it only checks for originality and it is the author’s responsibility to check that the non-original material has been correctly atributed.

As a doctoral candidate, I don’t have to submit work for marking, but I can submit chapters and journal articles to get some idea of whether I’ve acknowledged my sources appropriately. “How useful”, I thought, so I did, because one of the things I worry about in my work is unintentional plagiarism.

On the basis of my (admittedly not very extensive) testing, I am sure that TurnItIn is an excellent tool for making sure that people don’t simply cut and paste from the internet, but it has a number of significant drawbacks for serious researchers in the fields in which I work. I submitted two drafts, each of which contains a significant literature review and it didn’t pick up much, apart from the bibliography. It suggested that I might be quoting from an economics journal and an article on church music, neither of which I had consulted. There are a number of examples similar to “It should be noted, however, that the work of Parry, Lord and Havelock …”, where the words in bold are the non-original words. So, obviously, like everything else, this software needs to be used with common sense.

Of significantly more interest/concern was what happened to the bibliography. Both papers had about 15% of the text as bibliography and footnotes. The paper I’m working on for SBL has a lot of psychology literature and the software was aware of most of it, although there are a couple of journals that it can’t access. Some of the rest, however, it “knows” because the items are listed in reading lists and on-line bibliographies, so the database can’t compare my text with the text of the articles and books I’ve cited. The second is the lit review chapter of my thesis and, as I had suspected, the software simply isn’t aware of about half the literature in the field. The titles don’t even seem to exist in on-line bibliographies or reading lists, let alone there being access to full-text versions. So it seems that, despite assurances to the contrary from the enthusiasts, people working in biblical studies and other somewhat esoteric fields are not in particular danger of having intentional plagiarism picked up by originality software and are not going to find it particularly useful in helping them to avoid unintentional plagiarism.

Do other people have experience with this kind of software? If so, what do you think?

Women and Religion

As I was typing a comment on Jared Callaway’s Antiquitopia blog about the ordination of women in the Catholic church, I looked out my office window and saw a Saudi couple passing. They are both studying English at the university and they go everywhere together, always holding hands. She wears black from head to toe, including a veil in front of her eyes. In very hot weather, she exchanges the eye veil for mirror sunglasses. If I were her, I wouldn’t be letting go my husband’s hand, either. I would be scared that I would trip or get run over by a passing car.

I reflected that the ways in which women are restricted in some branches of Christianity are very different to the ways in which women are restricted in some branches of other religions. And yet, within our local Muslim community we have Pakistani women who are here to do PhDs, with their husbands tagging along to keep an eye on the children.  These women  cover their heads with their saris, as do Christian and Hindu women from the Indian subcontinent, so it’s as much a cultural thing as a religious one, and we can certainly still see their hair.  They are women who don’t appear to be any more restricted than I am.

Catholicism restricts women more significantly than does my denomination, but there are other branches of Christianity that make the Catholics look liberal.  Which isn’t to say that I agree with the policy of the Catholic church on ordination – it’s one of the reasons that I am not a Catholic.  I am, however, somewhat surprised that people seem surprised that the Vatican has condemned the priests who ordained women and the women who were ordained.   Unless they are very naive or very stupid, they would have been aware when they did it that they were going against the rules and taking on the authority of the church and that the church was unlikely to say “oh, cool, now that you’ve done it, let’s everyone follow suit.”  But it still sucks that women are in general given less freedom and opportunity than men in most societies and most religious systems.

Popping up for air – Orality and Literacy again

What with the end of semester busyness, our university Council (of which I am a member) being in a “crisis of governance” and my need to work on my paper for SBL Auckland, my blog has been neglected of late. 😦 I have, however, been following the discussion on Orality and Literacy going on on Mark Goodacre, April DeConick and Stephen Carlson‘s blogs. I’d like to offer a few observations:

1. When I was studying theology, one of our lecturers described the way in which written texts were used in the first century thus, based on the training of Greek rhetoricians: The letter was received by a literate member of the community, who read it through a number of times and prepared to “orate” it to the community. Once the designated reader was sufficiently familiar with the text, the community was called together and given what amounted to a dramatic reading of the text. Thus, the fact that only 10% (or whatever the figure was) of the community were literate did not stop them from having access to the content of the letter. I assume that it is to this process that Dunn is referring in Mark’s quote.

In this situation, the people charged with communicating the message were literate, possibly extremely so, but the way in which the material in the text was communicated to the vast majority of its intended audience was orally, and it was written so that it could be read aloud. Thus, although the initial communication was written, it would then have been passed around the community orally, by those who had been present at the reading. In contrast, in the twentieth century when information was provided in written form, it was usually shared with others by handing on paper copies of the text. In today’s society, electronic copies of the text are forwarded to others, so text is transmitted to its intended audience (and often to many others) in written form. While we are also able to transmit information in oral/aural and visual form, normally the oral/aural continues to be transmitted aurally and the visual stays visual. There is very little crossover.

Of course, modern technology makes it very easy for people to record and send information to others in oral form. Mobile phones and MP3 players can be used as recorders and the rules of oral expression are much less strict than those for written expression, so it’s faster to produce oral communications.  As I alluded to in my previous post on this issue, however, it is much faster for most people to acquire information in written rather  than oral form because most of us can read much faster than the average person can talk.  (As an aside, visually impaired people who use “talking text” software are able to speed up the rate at which their text is read back to them and one of my colleagues listens to his emails at significantly faster than talking speed, although he tells me that he needs to slow the machine down when the content is complex.)  The way in which we communicate information is changing, but I still don’t think we’re moving back to being an oral society.

2. After having spent months reading the psychological research literature on eyewitness testimony, it is my considered opinion that we need to make a distinction between the transmission of community tradition by skilled oral tradents (very accurate) and the passing on of experiences and teachings by ordinary members of the community who happened to hear and see Jesus (much less accurate, even in an oral society).