Critical Comparative Scriptures
Thursday, September 2, 2010
On September 2, 2010, Dr. Vincent L. Wimbush formally commenced the much-anticipated Critical Comparative Scriptures (CCS) program at a luncheon-cum-seminar hosted by the Institute for Signifying Scriptures. An outgrowth of the programming initiatives of the Institute for Signifying Scriptures, the CCS program avails students opportunities for full-fledged M.A. and Ph.D. studies that examine the visceral scripturalizing tendencies of human beings. Affiliated faculty members, incoming CCS students, and ISS research assistants were in attendance at the program launch.
During the second session following the lunch, Dr. Wimbush laid out the rubrics and blueprint for the Critical Comparative Scriptures Seminar. Spread over two years, four seminars will setup the orientation and propose trajectories for thinking about scriptures: what are scriptures; why are they compelling; how are they invented, deployed, and signified (on); what do these tell us about human investments in scriptures. Reading from Isabel Wilkerson's The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration’s, Dr. Wimbush stated that Isabel Wilkerson's account of the migration of African-Americans from the South to the North and West is relevant to the very aim of the Critical Comparative Scriptures program: “It’s a universal story also in that almost every people can chart the course of some kind of movement in relationship to trauma—in relationship to some hurt, some devastation, and the like which is the stuff, the very stuff of their history; and they begin to define themselves—create myths then stories around that sort of movement.” The epic which a people invent is a proxy for their grand movement. The literal, physical movement of a people becomes a metaphor, signified in multiple domains, leading to the creation of an entire symbology.
This new innovative transdisciplinary program at Claremont Graduate University provides fresh and dynamic perspectives on religious studies for the twenty-first century. Scriptures, as in the moment provided by Isabel Wilkerson, challenge the student of religion to reorient their analytical approaches. Rather than an exegetical quest for the “meaning” of a scripture, usually understood as text, the new program positions itself to uncover the “meaning of people seeking meaning” by examining a people’s social formations and their “movements.” The operative focus is thus primarily on people and the stories/scriptures they invent for themselves and the purpose(s) they employ/deploy these “stories.” This process of inventing and reinventing is what constitutes a history of a people. Simply put, the aim is to study the exegete not exegesis.
Returning to his opening theme, Dr. Wimbush closed the inaugural Critical Comparative Scriptures seminar by inviting students to begin with their own story and excavate it. He left them with the task of ascertaining what compels humans to scripturalize. Your comments and suggestions will be helpful in continuing this new and exciting conversation on the complex cross-cultural phenomenon we call “scriptures.”