Topic for the Year 2010–2011:
“Beyond Scare Quotes:
Rethinking Words and Things in the Study of Ancient ‘Judaism’ and ‘Christianity’”

Co-Chairs: Phillip Fackler and Phillip Webster (University of Pennsylvania)
PSCO Coordinator: Annette Yoshiko Reed (Penn)

Scare quotes are everywhere in the study of “Judaism” and “Christianity” in antiquity. The ideological import of these terms – along with other words previously thought neutral and descriptive, such as “orthodoxy” and “heresy” – has been exposed. We as scholars can no longer blithely assume a direct correspondence between the categories our sources use and social reality; the words themselves shape reality. Although this insight is not new, it has recently come to dominate discussion in the field, concurrent with the newfound interest in the construction of “Judaism” and “Christianity” as distinct, mutually exclusive “religions.” Arguably, however, the time has come to theorize beyond scare quotes. If the words we use do not correspond simply or directly to things, what actually are the objects of study for students of ancient “Judaism” and “Christianity?” Could the appellations “Judaism” and “Christianity” most helpfully be thought of as referring to specific discourses? As ideologies? And what exactly would either of those options mean? Would more attention to group theory help? Identity theory? Could a re-thinking of how the relationship between words and things, and the limits of the heurism of categories and taxonomy, help to re-theorize the relationship between belief and practice? With the recent advent of a near revolution in thinking about the relationship between Jews, Christians, and others in the ancient Mediterranean and Near East, the time may be ripe for an extended discussion regarding of some of the most basic questions in the field: what exactly are the objects of our study when we say we are studying “Judaism” and “Christianity”? And how do we study them?  

For its forty-eighth year, the Philadelphia Seminar on Christian Origins (PSCO) will take up these questions. As in past years, we will hold a series of monthly meetings with invited speakers during the semester. New this year is a culminating event — a regional graduate conference on the same theme will be convened at the University of Pennsylvania in April 2011. For further information, please see the Call for Papers for this conference.