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A Vision for International Biblical Scholarship

July 4, 2014

In an hour or so I’ll take part in our summer graduation ceremony in the University of Edinburgh, and one of the pleasures will be the graduation of a particularly fine young New Testament PhD student from a country in the southern hemisphere, a “developing” country.  He is one of the most talented PhD students whom I’ve supervised in my years in Edinburgh.  His thesis passed easily, and will, I presume, be published in due course, an excellent critical analysis of certain issues in the Gospel of John.  I blog here to express a plea on his behalf and on behalf of other young scholars like him from developing nations.

His studies were financed through his winning one of the highly competitive and prestigious PhD fellowships offered by this University.  He will be a major asset to the theological college in which he will take up duties, to his country, and to wider circles  . . . especially if he is enabled to continue to develop and deploy his strengths as a biblical scholar.  But this will be difficult in his home setting.  He will have a heavy teaching load.  The libraries there are basic and hardly adequate for advanced research.  It is most unlikely that his college will be able to finance him to take the sabbatical/research leaves that are absolutely necessary for serious research, especially in Humanities subjects such as biblical studies.

What we need, and desperately, are financial resources to allow talented scholars such as this one to be sprung free periodically from regular duties to pursue some major research and writing project, which is typically how research leaves are spent.  There are a few trusts and foundations that wonderfully finance PhD studies of “third world” students.  But I know of no such trust or foundation that offers funding for research leaves for scholars in these countries.

So, I make this plea, for a charitable trust or foundation, a well-off individual, or a body of committed individuals to take up this vision:  A scheme to which scholars such as my excellent student can apply to have the opportunity to take an extended research leave, relocating to a place where they have access to an excellent library and opportunities to confer with other scholars in their subject.  It is a shame to invest in helping students get their PhD and then simply leave them immersed ever thereafter in the heavy teaching and administration duties in their home setting in countries that lack adequate research facilities.  Is there anyone else out there who shares my concern?

With such a scheme, “third world” scholars could write textbooks, articles and books that would build up the scholarly resources in their native languages and cultures.  The student graduating here today could become a major figure in NT studies, and I covet the chance for him to achieve this, and for other students like him.

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  1. cmhays permalink

    Hear, hear! Thank you for raising this point. You are right that continued research support will be crucial for the flourishing of theological education in the Majority World. Kurt Berends (who founded the Theological Book Network, which Michael Gorman mentioned above) now leads the Issachar Fund, which has with a scholars writing retreat ( scheme to support research leaves for scholars working in 1 of 5 different fields, and has expressed a particular interest in this scheme funding majority world scholars. There is also, I believe, a scheme at Fuller Theological Seminary to facilitate continued research for Majority World Scholars (though the name escapes me right now). But these are certainly only scratching the surface of what needs to be developed.

  2. Matthew permalink

    Langham Partnership has been offering such Postdoctoral Fellowships for majority world Biblical scholars for several years.

    • Yes, Matthew, but there are restrictions: e.g., those awarded the grant can only take the leave in about 4 colleges in the UK & USA, these colleges obliged to provide free accommodations. Plus, it’s normally only for a few months.

      • Dear Professor Hurtado,
        Warm greetings from Lebanon!
        I am so grateful to you for raising this important issue and for your concern for Majority World scholarship. What is on your heart is also at the core of Langham Partnership.
        Langham Scholars Ministry has various ways of supporting Langham scholars to pursue research and writing. These range from a scholar’s writing grant, a six months or one year sabbatical, to a four year plan of intensive research… The Langham Scholars ministry is collaborating with over 10 schools in the UK, Europe, and USA and hopes to be able to collaborate with more. We do hope to be able to get more funding so scholars will have more opportunities.
        We would love to continue this conversation with you.
        Blessings on your life and ministry!
        Riad Kassis
        Director, Langham Scholars Ministry, Langham Partnership
        International Director, International Council for Evangelical Theological Education

  3. Trevor J. Burke permalink

    A huge need which may of us who have taught in seminaries in the majority and developing worlds have known about. If such a scheme was up and running, I wonder how many first-world faculty would be willing to take on the teaching duties – for 3, 6 or 12 months – of the majority/developing world faculty-member in order to ease the burden of their institution?

  4. Donald Jacobs permalink

    Can’t he stay and work in Scotland? Or is this prevented by UK immigration policy? If so it seems the best we can do is vote Yes in September to ensure an immigration policy best suited to Scotland’s needs and offering a fair chance to those who have chosen to study here.

    • Donald: You mistake my point. I’m not asking for international students to remain in Scotland. They want to return to their native countries, and should. What I would like is funding to permit them to take research leaves to be able to continue to develop and produce works in/for their native cultures.
      And for heaven’s sake, if you care about Scottish universities don’t, don’t, don’t even think about voting “yes” in the Scottish referendum! It would be a seriously negative step.

  5. michaeljgorman permalink

    Larry, it would be useful to contact the Theological Book Network based here in the States. They help get books to developing countries, but they may have some contacts. But I could not agree more with your point.

  6. Gary Moore permalink

    Have you considered contacting the Lily Foundation? They have been very generous (est $50,000 each) in providing Renewal Leaves for pastors for the last decade.

    I truly enjoy your insights. May God continue to use you for many years to come.

  7. samtsang98 permalink

    He may be a contribution not just for his native culture, but for all cultures. Your plea is excellent.

  8. Margaret G Sim permalink

    Excellent idea! Tyndale House in Cambridge is an ideal place for a scholar from the southern hemisphere to take a sabbatical but funds are the crucial issue. Thank you for making this plea! We have so much to learn from such scholars who do not have our presuppositions

  9. DR I agree with your concern and apeal in order to extend the wings of biblical scholarship to the different ‘worlds.’ We need these offers to enable us adjust our antennas to fit to the international community of research. I pray NIGERIA and other ‘third world nations’ will be given preference.

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