Westar Spring 2009 meeting outline

Jesus Seminar to focus on science and religion; Syria—Christianity’s first home; the origins of the Eucharist; the earliest Christian church; and to ask whether the controversial document called Secret Mark is a hoax

[The following is a Westar Institute press release]

On February 14-15, more than 1,000 churches and synagogues all over the world celebrated evolution weekend, the brainchild of Michael Zimmerman, founder of the Clergy Letter Project. Zimmerman is Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and professor of biology at Butler University. He will be one of four speakers featured at Westar Institute’s Spring meeting, March 18-21, at the Flamingo Hotel in Santa Rosa. All events are open to the general public.

In 2004 Zimmerman worked with clergy in Wisconsin to prepare a statement in support of teaching evolution in schools. It met with overwhelming response—more than 11,000 clergy from around the U.S. and the world signed the letter.

In Santa Rosa, on Wednesday afternoon, March 18, Zimmerman will explain why the evolution/creation controversy matters. He will be joined on Wednesday morning by Louise Mead, Education Project Director at the National Center for Science Education, who will demonstrate strategies for teaching evolution to young children using Stones & Bones. Selected by BioScience—the magazine of the American Institute of Biological Sciences—for its Fall 2008 Focus on Biology Books for Young People and written by local author Char Matejovsky, Stones & Bones tells the story of evolution in verse and song for children ages 5 and up.

On Thursday, Mark Chancey, Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, will present a workshop entitled The Bible, the First Amendment, and Public Education. Chancey is the recipient of the 2008 Samantha Smoot Activist Award for courage to speak truth to power from the Texas Freedom Network and the author of Greco-Roman Culture and the Galilee of Jesus (2005).

The Friday evening keynote lecture for the Jesus Seminar will be presented by Stephen Patterson, Professor of New Testament at Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis and acclaimed author of Beyond the Passion (2005) and The God of Jesus (1998). Patterson will explain how Christianity came to focus on the death and resurrection of Jesus and explore how things might have been different had the followers of Jesus focused instead on Jesus’ words.

Also on the agenda are discussions by Fellows of the Jesus Seminar. This year’s seminars will include an illustrated discussion of the controversial document called Secret Mark. Allegedly discovered by Columbia University professor Morton Smith in 1958, the document subsequently disappeared.

The question of its authenticity has been hotly debated ever since. Some scholars have even argued that Secret Mark was an elaborate hoax. Marvin Meyer, Griset Professor of Bible and Christian Studies at Chapman University and co-author of The Gospel of Judas, Charles Hedrick, Distinguished Emeritus Professor of Religious Studies at Missouri State University, and Dennis MacDonald, Professor of Religion at Claremont Graduate University, will take up the question on Friday, March 20.

In other sessions, scholars will look at early Christian meals and the origins of the Eucharist. Michael White, consultant and co-writer for two PBS/Frontline documentaries, will lead an illustrated tour of the earliest known Christian church.

And Susan Ashbrook Harvey, Willard Prescott and Annie McClelland Smith Professor of Religious Studies at Brown University, will present an illustrated lecture on early Syria—Christianity’s first home. According to Prof. Harvey, Mark, Matthew, and John were all written there, and Paul spent 15 years there. Antioch was arguably the most important Christian center in the Roman East. So why, she will ask, do we know so little about this place?

For more information visit http://www.westarinstitute.org/Events/Spring2009/program.html
To arrange interviews, contact Char Matejovsky, 707-523-1323 or char@westarinstitute.org
For background visit http://www.westarinstitute.org/Seminars/seminars.html