Wednesday, October 27, 2010

12 Month Embargo

It is not uncommon for academic journals to have 12, or even 24, month embargo on electronic material. But I was a bit taken back when I learned today that Finnish PhD candidates could also be forced to sign a 12 month embargo -- from their own universities!

It works along the following lines. It is not terribly hard to get accepted into PhD programs in Finnish universities. To balance things out, it is terribly hard to obtain decent funding, especially if one's field of study does not happen to coincide with any major research group, or if it happens to be anything in the Humanities. Trusts and other sources of funding are numerous enough, but they take applications in all over the year. Occasionally, students fall from their previous funding with a few months gap until the next one kicks in.

Such an unfortunate case was confirmed to happen to me very recently. A gap between funding options will last at least for three months, beginning from December 2010 and ending in February 2011. During that time period I could be applicable for the standard non-employment benefits -- or I could be not. I swear I'm not making any of this up!

Apparently, there exists a shadowy committee, located in some street in Helsinki beginning with the letter h (cannot remember). It assesses PhD candidates sharing my situation on individual basis, and decides whether non-employment benefits can be received without signing the embargo. I chatted with two clerks today concerning the committee, but none of them could shed any light on the principles used in deciding this or that. In the worst case, a PhD candidate is forced to sign the embargo. Apparently, it dictates something along the lines of 'the candidate cannot study for PhD degree in any way whatsoever in the university of X for 12 months', in an effort to ensure that the candidate is available for labour market should a position come open. But the clerks could not tell me much about the embargo, either, so I'm really just guessing.

It is more amusing than threatening, to tell the truth, but raises the serious question of why on Earth do I even want to write my dissertation in Finland.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Exodus from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland

A fierce debate over the rights of homosexuals has kept the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland in the media spotlight for almost two weeks.

The incident began on October 12, 2010, when YLE (The Finnish Broadcasting Company) broadcast a current affairs show titled Homoilta (Gay Night), in which gay rights were debated. The show is still available in YLE Areena at http://areena.yle.fi/video/1354542. Among the debaters were representatives of the conservative wing of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, most notably Päivi Räsänen, the Christian Democratic Party chairwoman. The bishop in action was Matti Repo, while the progressive wing of the church was represented by Leena Huovinen, a priest who has already blessed numerous same-sex couples.

The discussion in Homoilta was about as first rate as can be expected. The conservative Christians rehashed the worn-out silly arguments (Bible says; unnatural; traditions), others contested. The most striking performance, as noted by many commentators, was that of bishop Repo, who could not -- or would not -- challenge the claims of the conservatives. As Kari Latvus observes in his blog Dosentin ikkunasta: Raamattu, kirkko ja köyhyys (translation mine):

Matti Repo just could not blurt out that Bishops' Conference had already managed to settle

1) a clear policy that implies the acceptance of homosexuals,
2) which implies, in principle, the acceptance of homosexual relationships, and
3) a decision that there is to be a formal prayer for homosexual couples and their relationship

If this was all, it would be business as usual. But the national psyche of Finns clicked, and a mass exodus from the church, perceived as rejecting the most basic human rights from homosexuals, began. In Helsinki, some 4,000 people have already resigned their membership, signifying a loss of circa 1.2 million euros for the church. Nationwide, over 24,000 35,000 people have left, and the trend is not expected to diminish any time soon. The resign process is as simple as filling an online form, most notably at eroakirkosta.fi.

The numbers are huge, even though almost 80% of Finns (c. 4,000,000) still belong to the church. Some voices of the church have already cheered for the loss of the 'unbelievers', some are angry for the financial loss which means greatly diminishing resources for social work the church has been doing since WW2, and some are simply desperate and ashamed. I have seen many analyses of the situation during the past fortnight, none of them exactly convincing. What on earth is going on?

The aftermath of Homoilta reveals clearly how deeply the church has been tied to the mainstream Finnish culture. Until recent years the default option has been to belong to the church, a notion the church (or at least its progressive wing) has itself encouraged in claiming that the membership should not be connected to the amount of 'belief' an individual may or may not have regarding the classical dogma of (Protestant) Christianity; that should one approve only of the social work done in the church, one could very well remain a member and continue to finance it through her tax money.

The sudden mass resignation has challenged the status quo. Removing oneself from the church, in protest of its stance on homosexuality (even if it is a bit misguided notion), has become a genuine option for hundreds of thousands of people, a suggestion to be seriously considered eating lunch with one's co-workers, or having a cup of coffee (or a pint) with one's elders. The self-evident nature of belonging to the church has suddenly evaporated. People seem to be unsure of what a membership should entail. Do I believe as Martin Luther, or Paul or Jesus believed? Do I have to believe as Luther, or Paul or Jesus did to be a member of this church? Of any church? Is the church supposed to be an authority on religious issues? Do I want the church to be an authority on religious issues, or do I want the church to be a forum for discussing those issues? And ultimately, should I stay or leave if I wanted the church to be this or that?

Some have held that resigning one's membership is not a good form of protest -- if all the liberal Christians decide to leave, the church will never accept homosexuality for only the traditionalists remain. That notion is a half-truth at best: no one can claim that deciding to resign oneself at this moment would not be a good form of protest; the continued media hoo-ha shows it to be one of the more visible options available, clearly effective in keeping the topic on air.

Resigning one's membership is not, however, a sustainable alternative, at least not in the long run. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, even if it sounds a tad weird for the rest of the world, is a democratic community. The General Synod of the church has all the power in its hands, including drastic changes to the dogma, should the 3/4 majority decide to do it. In 1986 the General Synod decided to accept women as priests, after decades of battle between the progressives and the conservatives. The members of the General Synod are lay members of the church (2/3) and priests (1/3). The lay members are chosen by the members of the Parish Councils, who in turn are chosen in Parish Elections, where every member of the church is eligible to vote and to become a candidate.

And as it happens to be, Parish Elections are taking place on November 14, 2010. Furthermore, the ironic powers that rule the world have dictated that anyone who was a member of the church on August 15, weeks before the current brouhaha began, is eligible to vote, including people who have resigned their membership after that date. Whom should the faithful 24,000 35,000 vote for, should they wish to transform the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland into a more inclusive religious community, then?

All the candidates are listed at the official site of Parish Elections 2010. The official Candidate Matcher opens tomorrow. And if in doubt, at least in Helsinki, go for Tulkaa kaikki (Come All), a grass roots movement of Finnish Christians who believe that 'The Church of Christ is open for all', and continues to lobby hard against the discrimination of female priests and sexual/gender minorities, among other things.

Soon after Homoilta some priests (and one or two other employees of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland) decided to illustrate the multi-voiced reality that is the church by means of singing. The gist of their humorous video is this: 'Homo[sexual] or hetero[sexual], does not matter in the slightest, everyone needs everybody'.

For me, the video signifies how the silly arguments against deserve only to be answered by silly arguments for. (Original from YouTube)

Monday, October 18, 2010

BAR Serves Up New Thoughts on Secret Mark

As many other blogs have already noted (Stephan Huller's was the first), Biblical Archaeology Review has expanded its online section on the Secret Gospel of Mark with two new articles, a response by Peter Jeffery to the initial handwriting analysis by Venetia Anastasopoulou (the same response has been available from Jeffery's homepage since April 2010) and a further note by Anastasopoulou, in response to the question 'Does the document betray itself as a forgery?'

I have previously commented Jeffery's response, but wish to include one further observation here. Jeffery challenges the defenders of the authenticity to come up with "some level of consensus on a compelling interpretation that shows why their dating makes the most sense". Granted, in some other field, such a request could certainly be made. But biblical scholars are notoriously bad at agreeing with one another. Would the scholars studying historical Jesus need to reach a consensus before they could present their arguments? Would the scholars studying the theology of Paul need to reach a consensus, or scholars trying to interpret the Gospel of Judas? Not a chance (for a consensus, that is)! As far as I have come to understand the field through my studies, the persistent disagreements seem to be part of the 'normal discourse' in biblical studies, more so than in other historical enquiries. It is probably due to how little, in terms of sources, and how many, in terms of scholars, there are, 'an inch wide & a mile deep', as the saying goes. I sincerely hope that Jeffery will not wait for the consensus to emerge, but continues to offer his opinions, especially reacting to the counterarguments presented, as so far he remains the sole exception to the silence the defenders of authenticity face with the other proponents of the forgery hypothesis.

Now, Anastasopoulou's answer to the question 'Does the document betray itself as a forgery?' is a simple no, or to elaborate a bit more, "the only way to check whether the handwriting is genuine or not, is to compare [it] with a known handwriting". As suggested by many during the past years, Anastasopoulou observes that certain features, such as poor line quality, point to the possibility of forgery, while others, such as natural variation or good rhythm, suggest genuineness. She holds to her previous opinion, that Clement's letter is "written in a natural and spontaneous way", something Morton Smith could hardly have simulated.

Furthermore, the newest issue of BAR features an article by Hershel Shanks, First Person: Shakespeare, the Earl of Oxford and Morton Smith (available online), in which the debate on Secret Mark is compared to the debate on Shakespeare, whether his poems and plays were really penned by himself or by someone else, such as Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford.

Shanks acknowledges that "the parallels are inexact" but not too far-fetched, and at least the scholarly disagreement, the "trench warfare", is pretty much the same. Francis Watson's article from April 2010 is mentioned, as well as a new article by Craig Evans, to be published in a forthcoming collection of essays, in which Evans continues to treat Secret Mark with "grave suspicions", concluding that "[b]efore making his find at Mar Saba ... [Smith] spoke of the mystery of the kingdom of God, secrecy, prohibited sexual relationships, and Clement of Alexandria. That this unusual combination of elements just happens to appear in a document that Smith himself found should serve as a warning that ... we may well be dealing with a hoax."

Not too optimistic, Shanks thinks that "people who think Morton Smith is a forger will still think that Morton Smith is a forger. And, pari passu, those who find Secret Mark to be authentic will never be convinced that it is a forgery", a similar situation that pertains the question of Shakespearean authorship. Quoting Shapiro on Shakespeare, Shanks finds it "both impressive and demoralizing". "Amazing & Amusing", I would have worded it, but the fact remains that Secret Mark will continue to deliver far into the unforeseeable future.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Apurahojen hakeminen

Apurahojen hakeminen on taitolaji, josta minulla ei ole aavistustakaan. Toistakymmentä lähetettyä apurahahakemusta ja yhtä monta hylkäävää vastausta; palautetta hakemuksista ei saa, joten kieltävien vastausten syyt jäävät aivan auki. Tyypillisesti rahasto tai säätiö vaatii hakemukseen 1-2 sivun tiivistelmän, josta ilmenee vaivattomasti työskentelyn aihe, sen ajankohtaisuus ja merkittävyys, ja suunnitelma työskentelyn läpivientiin. Liitteenä pyydetään usein yksityiskohtaisempi tutkimussuunnitelma (4-10 sivua), ansioluettelo, julkaisuluettelo, ja luettelo aikaisemmin myönnetyistä apurahoista tai vastaava rahoitus- tai kustannussuunnitelma.

Koska liitteinä pyydetyt luettelot ovat sisällöltään sitä mitä ovat, ja muotoiluiltaan neutraaleja, en usko niitä voivani parantaa. En myöskään voi uskoa, että yksityiskohtaista tutkimussuunnitelmaa olisi tarpeen lähteä tyhmentämään; jokin asiantuntemushan hakemusten käsittelijöillä täytyy olla. Ensimmäinen parannustyö kohdistuu siis tiivistelmään. Alla malliesimerkki, jonka variaatiot eivät siis ole vakuuttaneet apurahoja myöntäviä tahoja. Parannusesimerkkejä otetaan vastaan, suoraan kommentteihin tai sähköpostiin (linkki profiilissa).

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The Secret Gospel According to Clement of A (työnimi)

Väitöskirjatutkimus keskittyy Klemens Aleksandrialaisen kirjeeseen Theodorokselle (Theod.) ja siihen sisältyvään ns. Salaiseen Markuksen evankeliumiin (Sal. Mark.), jonka ainoan tunnetun käsikirjoituskopion Columbia Universityn professori Morton Smith (1915-1991) väitti löytäneensä Mar Saban erämaaluostarista vuonna 1958. Smith julkaisi käsikirjoituksen kriittisen edition vuonna 1973. Osa tutkijayhteisöstä on suhtautunut tekstiin suurin varauksin, ja Smithin on jopa epäilty väärentäneen sen. Väärennöshuhuja ruokki myös käsikirjoituksen katoaminen Jerusalemin ortodoksisen patriarkaatin kirjastoon 1970-luvun lopulla. Uuteen akateemiseen keskusteluun käsikirjoitus nousi Stephen C. Carlsonin vuonna 2005 ilmestyneen monografian The Gospel Hoax: Morton Smith's Invention of Secret Mark myötä. Carlson esittää Smithin väärentäneen kirjeen syistä, jotka eivät avaudu yksiulotteisilla väärennöksen paljastamisen työkaluilla. Klemensin kirjeen todellinen genre on huijaus (hoax), ei väärennös (forgery), ja tämä paradigman vaihdos on Carlsonin mukaan avain tekstin alkuperän selvittämiseen.

Arvioin Klemensin kirjeestä käytyä keskustelua toukokuussa 2009 ilmestyneessä pro gradu -tutkielmassani Salaisen evankelistan salaliitto: Uusin keskustelu Klemens Aleksandrialaisen kirjeestä Theodorokselle, joka hyväksyttiin arvosanalla eximia cum laude approbatur. Tarkastelin huijaushypoteesin jokaista osa-aluetta erikseen, arvioin niin puolustajien kuin vastustajienkin argumentteja, ja kiinnitin huomiota huijaushypoteesin yhteyksiin eräisiin pseudohistoriallisiin teorioihin, erityisesti siihen kuinka nämä muodostetaan yleisen historiatieteellisen metodin vastaisella tavalla. Johtopäätökseni oli kaksiosainen: toisaalta huijaushypoteesi ei vakuuta tai sen väitteitä ei saatavilla olevan evidenssin puutteellisuuden takia voi arvioida lainkaan, toisaalta se perustuu sellaisiin metodologisiin ratkaisuihin, joita ei voida pitää hyvän tieteellisen argumentointikäytännön valossa asiallisina. Tutkielmani englanninkielinen käännösprojekti onkin jo herättänyt huomiota akateemisten raamatuntutkijoiden muodostaman blogosfäärin (eli blogien kokonaisuuden), ns. biblioblogien piirissä.1

1http://salainenevankelista.blogspot.com/2009/06/masters-thesis-conspiracy-of-secret.html

Keskustelu Klemensin kirjeestä Theodorokselle on ajankohtainen juuri nyt, sillä tiedeyhteisössä seuraavan vuosikymmenen aikana muodostuva konsensus, erityisesti Salaisen Markuksen evankeliumin osalta, vaikuttaa merkittävästi siihen kuinka ensimmäisen ja toisen vuosisadan kristillisyyttä ja evankeliumien syntyä tutkitaan. Mikäli teksti hyväksytään autenttiseksi ilman sitä vuosikymmenet seurannutta epäilyksen varjoa, mikä minusta näyttää oikealta johtopäätökseltä, ymmärryksemme erityisesti Markuksen evankeliumin syntyhistoriasta ja kehityksestä muuttuu ratkaisevasti, riippumatta siitä onko “Salainen Markus” samalta ensimmäisen vuosisadan kirjoittajalta kuin kanoninen Markuskin (näin Scott G. Brown) tai toiselta vuosisadalta peräisin oleva imitaatio (näin Raymond E. Brown). Myös ymmärryksemme ensimmäisen ja toisen vuosisadan kristillisyydestä, erityisesti Egyptin suhteen, tulee muuttumaan.

Väitöskirjan kirjoitusprosessi on alkanut tammikuussa 2010 ja kestää neljä vuotta. Laskennallisesti varaan viidennen vuoden 60 opintopisteen jatko-opintoihin kuuluvien opintojen suorittamiseen. Käytännössä opinnot jakautuvat tasaisesti koko väitöskirjan kirjoitusprosessin ajalle. Teologian tohtorin tutkinnon kokonaisuus on valmis vuoden 2014 loppuun mennessä, väitöstilaisuus mukaanlukien. Aiheen ajankohtaisuuden huomioiden tavoitteenani on julkaista jokainen väitöskirjani pääluku itsenäisenä artikkelina vertaisarvioidussa tieteellisessä aikakausjulkaisussa. Tutkimus kirjoitetaan englanniksi, joskin julkaisutavoitteisiini kuuluu myös tekstin suomenkielinen käännös, joka voidaan julkaista lyhyellä kommentaarilla varustettuna Teologisessa Aikakauskirjassa. Koska Klemensin kirje Theodorokselle esiintyy vain harvojen tutkijoiden rekonstruktioissa käsikirjoitukseen liittyneiden väärennösepäilyjen vuoksi, lähestyn tekstiä väitöskirjani yksittäisissä luvuissa monia erilaisia metodeja hyödyntäen. Lyhyet tiivistelmät väitöskirjatutkimukseni pääpiirteistä alla:

[Annetuista ohjeista riippuen seuraa joko ylimalkainen tai yksityiskohtainen kuvaus seitsemästä artikkelista, jotka muodostavat väitöskirjani rungon.]

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