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Religion Students Present Research at Regional Academic Conference

Congratulations to Jake Conley and Ian Jarosz!


 
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SUMMARY: In March, two Religion students from Dr. Flannery's Hebrew Bible course presented original research papers at the 2021 Mid-Atlantic Regional Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature. Ian Jarosz presented “An Historical-Literary-Critical Analysis of Homosexuality in Leviticus and the Vendidad” and Jake Conley presented “The Ethno-nationalist Origins of Necromancy's Condemnation in the Hebrew Bible.” Congratulations to Jake and Ian for this achievement!


Two Religion students from Dr. Flannery's Hebrew Bible course presented original research papers at the 2021 Mid-Atlantic Regional Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in March. Jake Conley and Ian Jarosz, whose papers engaged historical and literary-critical analyses of the biblical book of Leviticus, received effusive praise for the quality of their research from an audience of graduate students and professors. Ian Jarosz presented “An Historical-Literary-Critical Analysis of Homosexuality in Leviticus and the Vendidad” and Jake Conley presented “The Ethno-nationalist Origins of Necromancy's Condemnation in the Hebrew Bible.” Congratulations to Jake and Ian for this achievement!

Dr. Flannery: "I was extremely happy with the work of students in our Introduction to the Hebrew Bible course in the Fall of 2020, and with two students in particular. Jake Conley and Ian Jarosz not only wrote splendid papers, but they also conducted themselves with professionalism at a regional Society of Biblical Literature meeting, in which they were the only two undergraduate presenters among a sea of faculty and graduate students. Lest you think this is just their professor's impression, one faculty attendee in their talk wrote me afterwards to say: 'Both presentations were exceptional: well written, well delivered, detailed, nuanced, and sophisticated. Frankly, more engaging and as substantive as most national meeting papers.' We in the department are equally impressed!" 

To Jake and Ian: what inspired your research?

Jake: "We took Dr. Flannery's REL 201 (Introduction to Hebrew Bible/Old Testament) in the 2020 fall semester. In that class, we studied the language and historical context of the Hebrew Bible—its time periods of authorship, its authors, the Hebrew language behind modern translations, the real-world events that influenced the authors, etc. Dr. Flannery taught several different methodologies, including historical criticism and literary criticism (both of which my paper draws upon), to give us the tools to analyze the Hebrew Bible's text in a scholarly and critical manner."

What arguments or findings did you present at the conference?

Jake: "My paper examines the origins of and motivations behind the Priestly authors' unequivocal condemnation of necromancy (wizardry) and necromantic activity in Ancient Israelite culture. My argument is that the motivation is two-pronged: a) the Priestly authors sought to make an ethno-nationalist distinction between the YHWH cult and other ancient Near Eastern religions and people groups (which did practice necromancy) contemporary to Ancient Israel; and b) the Priestly authors sought to consolidate power within the Priestly cultus by claiming to be the only ones in Ancient Israelite culture that could communicate with divine/otherworldly beings, meaning that Ancient Israelites would have to turn to the Priestly cultus for any divine questions and/or answers."

Ian: "Using historical and literary critical methods and etymology, my analysis shows that the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament, never condemns being gay as an orientation. In fact, the priestly authors of Leviticus had a cultural background of tolerance toward gay people, attested by the influential viewpoints of other Ancient Near-Eastern cultures. The authors would not have even conceived of gay identities as do contemporary cultures. Rather, the verses are concerned with specific sexual acts between male-bodied individuals, perhaps only in certain situations. They take no stance against gay identities or most of the lifestyle activities of anyone in a gay relationship, including gay marriage. I analyze the unexplored influence of the Persian Vendidad during the Babylonian Exile, reflected in Leviticus. I also employ literary criticism to support a new translation of Leviticus 18:22 with a new understanding of the verse."

What was it like to present your research at a professional academic conference?

Ian: "Presenting at the (virtual) conference definitely felt like a once-in-a-lifetime experience, although I hope such a chance will come more than once again. Since I’d never done anything like this before, I was nervous for weeks leading into the conference; but, while I was presenting and afterwards, it felt great to have serious scholars and doctors from the Society of Biblical Literature listen to what I had to say and respect the work I’d put in. I learned so much from their feedback and from watching/reading other presenters’ work. Overall, I had a lot of fun and I know I’ll remember the conference day for a long time."

Jake: "The conference was absolutely a great experience. I got to present my paper alongside one of my classmates, Ian Jarosz, to Professor Greg Carey of the Lancaster Theological Seminary, and to a Ph.D. candidate who was facilitating the undergraduate session. Presenting the paper, and then discussing some of its points and nuances with Professor Carey and the Ph.D. candidate, was incredibly enjoyable, and it really opened my eyes to the collaborative nature of academic work."

How have your studies in Religion shaped you? What skills have you gained through the study of Religion?

Ian: "What’s amazing is just how much I’ve learned from Dr. Flannery over the course of just one, semester-long class. I am not exaggerating when I say that that Hebrew Bible class was one of the most eye-opening classes I’ve taken. I had no idea how much I didn’t know, or completely misunderstood, about religion from what I’d learned growing up. I thought I was a good critical reader before, but I still learned so much about analyzing text, I feel like I learned how to read all over again. Historical and literary criticism and understanding Biblical cultures have drawn me into the Bible even more, and I wish I’d been taught to think about religion in a scholarly way while growing up. The course even changed how I view everything I read - I definitely learn a lot more and get a lot more out of reading something. Especially after the conferences and the feedback, I feel like I’ve become a much better writer, reader, and thinker. I know I’ll use these skills in the future, in my classes, and to hopefully find more success in research. And of course, I’m excited for what I’ll learn.

Jake: "My main program of study at JMU is in journalism, and I hope to professionally cover conflict and religious violence. I'm a firm believer that you need to deeply understand the topics you choose to cover, so taking Dr. Flannery's class and formulating, then presenting, academic research on religion has really given me a rich body of knowledge to draw from in my professional work. The experience also taught me a great deal about research and criticism methodology, which I think will absolutely come in handy in my career."

To learn more about the Religion major and the capstone research project, click here

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Published: Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Last Updated: Wednesday, April 21, 2021

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