Mark Chancey: The Constitutional Conundrum of Teaching “Bible History” in American Public Schools

Professor Mark Chancey delivered a lecture at Trinity University on April 13, 2016 entitled “The Constitutional Conundrum of Teaching ‘Bible History’ in American Public Schools.” The lecture was delivered in the 2016 Lennox Series and Seminar at Trinity University (San Antonio, Texas).

When public schools teach about the Bible, they often frame the subject matter as “Bible History.” In doing so, they are definitely favoring conceptualizations rooted in very particular theological commitments. This approach has a long history, going back to the early 20th century.  Courts prohibit it, but many courses do it.  The courts’ prohibition to not favor or disfavor particular religious viewpoints puts teachers in a pedagogical and constitutional Catch 22.  How does one talk academically about material that makes historical claims without slighting one religious viewpoint or another?

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The Bible in the Public Square Conference – Duke University

Bible in the Public Square

The Bible in the Public Square Conference took place at Duke University, September 9-10, 2012. Presenters considered the influence of the Bible in spheres such as U.S. politics and culture, the U.S. founding era, public schools, and Middle East policy.

Videos of the presentations are available both on the Duke University website and on YouTube (see below).

Session 1: The Bible in Presidential Politics

Jacques Berlinerblau (Georgetown University), “The Bible in the Presidential Elections of 2012, 2008, 2004 and the Collapse of American Secularism”

Session 2: The Bible and Popular Culture

Chair: Mark Chancey (Southern Methodist University)
Adele Reinhartz (University of Ottawa), “Then as Now: Old Testament Epics and American Identity”
David W. Stowe (Michigan State University), “Babylon Revisited: Psalm 137 as America’s First Protest Song”

Session 2, continued

David Morgan (Duke University), “The Bible as Image in American Visual Culture”
Rubén R. Dupertuis (Trinity University), “Translating the Bible into Pictures: Comic-Book Bibles and the Politics of Interpretation”

Session 3: The Bible and America’s Founding Era

Chair: Carol Meyers (Duke University)
John Fea (Messiah College), “Does America Have a Biblical Heritage?”
Shalom Goldman (Duke University), “God’s American Israel: Hebrew, the Bible and the American Imagination”

Session 4: The Bible and Middle East Policy

Chair: Eric Meyers (Duke University)
Yaakov Ariel (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill), “Biblical Imagery and Political Action: the Roots of Christian Support for Zionism and Israel”
Mordecai Inbari (University of North Carolina, Pembroke), “Zionism, Bible, and the Messianic Crisis of the West Bank Settlements”

Session 5: The Bible and Public Schools

Chair: Shalom Goldman (Duke University)
Charles Haynes (First Amendment Center), “Battling over the Bible in Public Schools: Is Common Ground Possible?”
Melissa Rogers (Wake Forest Center for Religion & Public Affairs), “‘Rightly Dividing the First Amendment? An Evaluation of Recent Decisions regarding the Bible and Public Schools”
Mark Chancey (Southern Methodist University), “The Good Book as Textbook in Historical Perspective”