Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Crossing cultures and authority

One of the most important things to be aware of in describing cross-cultural experience is how diverse the experiences are which carry this label. For example, a person may enter a cross-cultural exchange either as a bearer of authority, or as one of those who is taught. The person who carries power into the situation experiences the other culture in a completely different way than the one who enters without power.

And this was drilled into my head as a corrective to the way a typical white person enters the world of the First Nations people of North America. If you enter as a representative of a more powerful culture, you carry that with you at all times. This is one of the difficulties in studying linguistics. You become an authority on the language of some group other than you own. It takes great effort to resolve this.

To take this model over into cross gender friendship, it seems that women experience the culture of men as producing ideas which come to be authoritative in biblical studies. Women read an enormous number of books by men. While some men read books by women - no doubt John Piper has read Shadow of the Almighty by Elizabeth Elliot, I had seldom heard women quoted as authorties in the field of biblical studies. That is changing, however.

Here are a few examples. Rick has recommended to me articles by Linda Belleville. John introduces us to too many people for me to track, women as well as men. Kurk has a running commentary on women in classical studies and feminism.

Recently, Iyov has featured The Torah: A Women's Commentary . Here is the comment thread attached to this post.

    Why men and women "need" separate commentaries is now, and will always be completely beyond me.
    My guess as to why they need a separate commentary is because of the underrepresentation of women scholars in other commentaries. It gives these women a voice in their area of expertise.
David E. S. Stein,
    No need to guess; the book speaks for itself! According to the introduction, the need for a women's Torah Commentary is twofold.

    First, this book provides a corrective by filling in the gaps in nearly all commentaries to date. The latter have (relatively speaking) overlooked women's presence in the narrative and legal materials, trivialized female characters, and skipped over subjects that are of interest (either by nature or nurture) to women. I have found the Women's Commentary to be eye-opening in this regard; often I hadn't noticed what other commentaries were missing until I could see the difference by what is said in the Women's Commentary.

    In other words, men who study Torah need this book nearly as much as women do, because until now none of us have been getting the whole story.

    Second, a book containing the work of 100 women commentators (including 38 academic biblicists, by my count) showcases the significant inroads that women have recently made into Bible scholarship. One of this book's target audiences is Jewish women who have never before studied Torah. (Some women think of Torah as men's domain or of themselves as too ignorant or otherwise incapable.) This book's contributors model how women can and do take Torah seriously. It offers encouragement and strives to make the world of Torah accessible to a broader audience than ever before.

    It's a multi-layered book; one can hardly do justice to it in a few paragraphs here. But in the interest of full disclosure, I will add one more thing: I was the only man directly involved in the editing of this book (its midwife, as it were), and I am very pleased with how it has turned out, and honored to have been part of the endeavor.
I welcome books like this, and appreciate those who treat such books as having equal general interest as those written mainly by men.

1 comment:

J. K. Gayle said...

To take this model over into cross gender friendship, it seems that women experience the culture of men as producing ideas which come to be authoritative in biblical studies.

Wow! It's the experience, the experiencing that separates and validates, and creates bridges. One very helpful article (to me, not having experienced what it's like to be black or a woman) is Jacqueline Jones Royster's "When the First Voice You Hear Is Not Your Own," which Cora Agatucci has kindly summarized here for her students of culture crossing.