AAR/SBL, ‘Generational Hermeneutics’, and Adolescent Religion

This weekend I’ll be headed to San Diego, CA, for the AAR/SBL Annual Meeting. It’ll be the first time I’ve attended in a few years and I’m going with a whole new set of interests. Last time I attended I was a doctoral student struggling to write a dissertation in what we might call ‘classical’ Biblical Studies, a.k.a., Biblical Studies with an emphasis on the Historical-Critical lens. In the meantime, I did finish that dissertation (though I never found the energy to reshape it into something worth publishing) and I began teaching Religious Studies to high schoolers. The latter is where I find happiness now. While I hope that some of my work from the past can slowly be turned into a few articles and maybe a book, what interests me the most now is how adolescents read the Bible and how adolescents think about religion.

In other words, my audience is also one of my favorite topics. But this raises a question: Where does one go during AAR/SBL to find scholars looking into topics like ‘generational hermeneutics’, i.e., how younger people read the Bible different than their predecessors? Or, do many AAR sessions ponder adolescent religion outside of the rise of the Nones?

The rise of the Nones is a fascinating topic. For example, see Timothy Beal’s recent article in the WSJ titled ‘Can Religion Still Speak to Younger Americans?’ I find this subject to be very interesting. And for many scholars of religion who teach at the college-level, the future of your departments, and the future of your profession, will be shaped by how interested these ‘kids’ are in religion by the time they become college students. So, there’s practical reasons to care, but there’s also scholarly reasons to care.

Scholarship has been enriched as we’ve thought deeply about how feminism, or Black American culture, or LGBTQ+ interests shed new light on a variety of subjects. What about generational differences? Might there be a ‘generational hermeneutic’ worth discussing? If so, what would it take for future AAR or SBL sessions to be dedicated to exploring how emerging generations ‘do’ and ‘think’ religion? I feel like AAR would have an easier time incorporating something like this (and maybe I’m missing something…if so, point it out to me, please) but I believe it could make for some really interesting SBL sessions as well.

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