Thursday, January 01, 2015

The bible in Australia: a new project

Speaking of religious books, my new project for 2015 is a history of that most religious book, the Bible, and its role in Australian culture and society. Has it fared any better than Carthy’s prayer book? How might we understand its transmission and influence over the last two hundred and fifty years?

The details of the project are still being worked out, but it has obvious potential to open up new conversations about the Australian experience.
  • How and with what consequences has the bible been transmitted?
  • How far does its influence extend beyond the community of believers?
  • What kind of impact has it had on individuals, communities and cultures?

There are lots of questions to ask at this preliminary stage - but perhaps most basically of all is that of the bible itself. What is it? What would a history of the bible in Australia actually be about?
After all, ‘the bible’ is hardly a stable subject for historical inquiry! As John Riches proclaimed in his little Oxford introduction, ‘there is no such thing as ‘The Bible’ - but rather a number of bibles which differ both in content and form. There's the bible as a material object, as a text to be read, as a form of words or phrases to be heard or uttered, as a set of ideas to be considered, or even as a story to be lived! Even beyond this, and the history of its transmission and translation, there are myriad theological and hermeneutical considerations – How does the bible speak, or act, in relation to individuals and communities? In what sense, if any, can we talk about the bible as playing a role? as an historical agent? 

Even to a plain Australian historian, ‘the bible’ appears a many-splendored thing, encountered and received in a great variety of ways, something with a diversity of histories. I'm looking forward to exploring them!

Pic credit:
The Gospel of Johnku (St John) in Tjukurpa Palya. Picture: Adam Knott Source: TheAustralian:

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