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U. of I. symposium to focus on issues tied to public education and the Bible

Andrea Lynn, Humanities Editor


CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — A symposium on “The Bible, Public Schools and American Identity” will be held April 24 at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The symposium, which is free and open to the public, will begin at 6:30 p.m. in the Reading Room of the Levis Faculty Center, 919 W. Illinois St., Urbana.

It will explore “some of the many issues – implied and explicit, legal, practical and philosophical – swirling around current public Bible education controversies,” said Jonathan Ebel, professor of religious studies at Illinois and organizer of the symposium.

Three scholars of religion will make presentations at the symposium:

  • Mark A. Chancey, Southern Methodist University, “Another Notch in the Bible Belt? The Fight Over Bible Curricula in Odessa, Texas.” Chancey’s research interests include the Gospels, the “historical Jesus,” archaeology and the Bible, and the political and social history of Palestine during the Roman period.

    His book, “The Myth of a Gentile Galilee” (Cambridge, 2002), provides evidence to demonstrate that first-century Galilee was overwhelmingly Jewish.

  • Eric C. Owens, Center on Religion and Democracy, University of Virginia, “Good Citizens and the Good Book: Should the Bible Be Taught in America’s Public Schools?” Owens’ research centers on the intersection of religion and politics in contemporary society.

    He is co-editor of two books: “Religion and the Death Penalty: A Call for Reckoning” (Eerdmans, 2004) and “The Sacred and the Sovereign: Religion and International Politics” (Georgetown, 2003).

    A former Spencer Foundation Dissertation Fellow, Owens has taught at the University of Chicago and DePaul University, and he has worked for the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and the Chicago Board of Ethics.

  • Winnifred Fallers Sullivan, visiting scholar at the American Bar Foundation and senior fellow at the Martin Marty Center, University of Chicago Divinity School, “Litigating the Bible: Remembering the Cincinnati Bible Wars.”

    Sullivan, who earned a doctorate and law degree from the University of Chicago, teaches and writes about the intersection of religion and law in the modern period. Her work has focused on “understanding the phenomenology of religion as it is represented in contemporary legal contexts,” she said.

    Her most recent book is “The Impossibility of Religious Freedom” (Princeton, 2005).

The new Illinois Forum on Religion in America, a sub-unit of Illinois’ Program for the Study of Religion, is a symposium sponsor. Ebel and Richard Layton, also a professor of religious studies, are founding members of the Illinois Forum, a unit designed to “promote extended consideration of aspects of religious life in the United States,” he said.

“We are interested both in scholarly engagement with a wide range of topics and in stimulating conversations about religion in public life among academics, professionals, public officials and the broader community.”

Toward that end, the Illinois Forum is sponsoring a series of free public conversations this spring in addition to the symposium. The next conversation will be held 7 to 8:30 p.m. April 20 in 4080 Foreign Languages Building, 707 S. Mathews Ave., Urbana.

The conversation will revolve around such questions as: What are the primary obstacles to good teaching of the Bible and what would be required to overcome them?

“While ideological and legal considerations have dominated arguments for and against teaching the Bible in public schools, practical obstacles to the effective teaching of Bible courses are equally important,” Layton said. “In this session, we will attempt to enumerate and define these obstacles.”

Several units are co-sponsoring Illinois Forum events, including the College of Education, the Foreign Languages Building Fund and the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities.