On biblical literacy

In the run up to the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible translation, I facilitated a conference at the University of Sheffield exploring how shifts in biblical literacy affect teaching in a range of academic subjects. The three-day conference brought together professional educationalists from school and university contexts, to improve our understanding of issues posed by biblical illiteracy and share different ways in which the Bible could be encountered productively in the classroom.

Delegates heard results from a comparative study of texts in religious education undertaken by Julia Ipgrave and others at the Warwick Religions and Education Research Unit (headline: secondary R.E. includes more of the Simpsons than the Bible);1 were encouraged by a report from an experimental course in literary foundations at the University of Sheffield (developed with HEA funding); and gleaned insight into expressions of biblical literacy in advertising, economics, and creative writing.

The conference also coincided with the 2011 Stephenson Lecture from Professor Gordon Campbell, whose lecture “Putting Words into Our Mouths: The King James Bible and the English Language” entertained a wide and varied audience at Sheffield Cathedral.2

A further series of public events included lectures from Sir Andrew Motion and Frank Field MP.

More on biblical literacy

A selection of papers from the conference were subsequently published in Postscripts: The Journal of Sacred Texts and Contemporary Worlds 7.2 (co-edited with James Crossley).3

In that volume, see my article “Practicing Biblical Literacy”, which incorporates case studies from three of the conference speakers alongside a discussion of UK and US educational contexts.

I subsequently contributed a follow-up discussion questioning the paradigm of decline (“The Quest for Biblical Literacy”) as a chapter in Rethinking Biblical Literacy (ed. K. Edwards; Bloomsbury/T&T Clark, 2015).


1 Subsequently published as J. Ipgrave, “From storybooks to bullet points: books and the Bible in primary and secondary religious education”, British Journal of Religious Education 25.3 (2013).

2 For Campbell’s work on the King James Bible, see my Relegere review.

3 View the full conference programme via the University of Sheffield.


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