Monthly Archives: August 2012


Sorry — re-composing our applications to extend our visas. Various sources of advice and legal counsel went awry, so on the last day for submitting the form and being sure it’s on time, I’m scrabling to get it all done. I’m close.

On A Cheerier Note

In the course of talking through a major grant application, my colleague Jeremy noticed something about me that I hadn’t known:
AKMA identified in OED as first to use word 'subsistent' in this sense since 1870
I’m not sure that’s the sense of ‘subsistent’ I’d have identified for my usage, but who am I to argue with the OED?

This Is The Story

I’ve been putting off writing about what’s been on my mind for the past few days, partly because the matter was not (for a while) public knowledge, partly because I just didn’t know what to say, and partly because I don’t relish thinking hard about what’s to come. But since that was what I was thinking about, it was hard to come up with anything else to write about online.
So, here we go: as of January, Rich King, Yvonne Sherwood, and Ward Blanton are leaving Glasgow and relocating to the University of Kent. I’m very sad to see them go. Rich has been one of our very closest friends in Glasgow; right from his arrival, he and I have gotten along splendidly, and he and Margaret took to one another when she crossed the ocean. They’ve worked together on manuscripts and job applications,and Rich and Margaret and I have lots of congruent ideas about teaching, scholarship, popular culture, academic labour, politics, and films. He’s an outstanding scholar of Religious Studies — cheers to Kent for recognising him. And everyone loves Rich’s daughter Lila.
Yvonne and Ward have been supportive, welcoming, encouraging, and quite brilliant colleagues. Yvonne urged me to apply for this position, and firmly stood up for redressing my situation here vis-a-vis qualifications and academic rank. Ward, whom I didn’t know before I got here, has been a great neighbour, friend, and colleague as well. It’s a profound relief to work among colleagues who don’t think I’m daft, or dangerous, or dull-witted, and even though Yvonne and Ward take our congruent understandings of the BIble and hermeneutics in very different directions from those I do (at a recent meeting, Yvonne asked ‘Biblical theology — who does that anymore?’), I have tons of respect for the intellectual acuity of their research, and likewise I’ve never known them to question the soundness of my work.
And losing two professors and a senior lecturer all at once, just months before the REF rosters are finalised, after having already lost two other professors, and not knowing whether anybody else is on the verge of leaving — all of that makes for a disorienting week or so.
The good news about the aftermath (‘Our American Cousin really was a very good play, apart from the assassination’) is that it seems likely that we will be permitted at least two hires within the REF window, and probably one of them will be in biblical studies. The senior management has not made any gestures toward breaking up Theology/Religious Studies, and this will provide an occasion for stopping to regroup, reassess, and draw together based on the strengths that we have and that we aim to build toward. We who remain expressed determination to push ahead at our emergency meeting last week, and the school should save enough on salaries in the second half of the year that short-term staffing for course coverage shouldn’t be a problem — though we have yet to get that sorted in detail.
Rich and Yvonne and Ward certainly deserve the welcome that Kent wants to show them. I wish them every blessing in their new institutional home.
Meanwhile, I have work to do — not just processing the news and figuring out how it affects our students in biblical studies, but writing work, and editing, and planning for my own courses, admin and advising responsibilities, and super-snazzy grant proposals relative to my broad hermeneutical project. Letting go of this news may help loose the energies I need to take in hand all the responsibilities of the next few months, so that when the dust clears we can look around with new colleagues and see more clearly where we’re headed.
As the song says, ‘There’s no excuses, my friend — let’s push things forward’.

Music + Statistics =

I was perusing the Pitchfork People’s List of the top 200 albums of the past fifteen years, and was interested to see that they’d done a breakdown of some of the data they collected along with votes for readers’ top album choices. The results of the breakdown interested me to varying degrees, but the one element I was most intrigued by was the year of release.
If you scroll all the way down to ‘Best Years For Music’ you’ll find that data about which I’m thinking. Clearly the title for the infographic misses the mark; these aren’t ‘best years’ necessarily, but ‘years in which the albums that voters supported came from’. As I would expect, the graph tends to drift upward; the recency effect predicts that more people would vote for albums released closest to the time of the poll (and the effect really kicks in with polls about ‘best guitarist’ and so on, from which one might conclude that hardly anyone ever played the guitar nearly as well as the leader of a band that scored a platinum record last year but will be forgotten next year). Therefore I was impressed that the year 2000 did as well as it did — outpolling any of the years apart from 2007 and 2010, in a close race with 2003).
But what would interest me even more would be a comparison of the albums normalised for recency, so that older albums were allotted an incremental boost, and newer albums were weighted less (because of their cognitive advantage over older albums). One could do similar operations relative to music by women (Björk comes in at #51, the first female performer on the list, though collectives such as Broken Social Scene which feature prominent female performers appear as high as #25. Does Arcade Fire count as featuring women prominently?), nationality of voter versus nationality of performer, and so on.
If I weren’t already sidetracked from optimal productivity, such a data set could preoccupy me for days on end, and produce results that would positively fascinate me (if no one else).

Glitch Update

(I’m talking about the online game, not the malfunction in our water heater. That glitch has not changed since yesterday evening when I discovered it.)
I logged in to Glitch yesterday on a whim; I stopped paying attention to it about a year ago, when I had reached a point where I was mostly grinding (in the online game sense of ‘performing repetitive tasks for necessary rewards’), and although I understand some reasons for incorporating grinds in online games, that sort of activity was the antihesis of the reason I had been playing Glitch in the beginning (and the hyperantithesis of why I was a regular player of Glitch’s prehistoric grandparent, the Game Neverending).
So I logged in and was quite disoriented by what I saw. Even more eerie, though, was that within seconds of my login, Stoot Barfield (the nom de jeu of game designer Stewart Butterfield) popped up beside me and began gently clueing me in to the very very many changes that had been incorporated into the game since last I had visited. Honestly, I can’t recall even the changes I saw in the two hours or so I was logged in. I can say, though, that everything about the newer version struck me as a significant improvement, tending more to encourage whimsy, sharing, and good humour than grinding, cutthroat competition, trollery, and gaming the system.
I know many of my friends have dormant accounts with the Glitch beta — if you bothered to look in in the first place, you should probably check back after these revolutionary changes. It’s still in beta (or to be more precise, it’s back in beta after having crept out toward formal completion for a brief interval before the developers decided that they wanted to shuffle the deck once more before opening the doors. That was an intensely wise decision; if the rest of the game has matured as impressively as the dimensions I saw yesterday, Glitch has tons of potential. And if you didn’t get in on the beta earlier, ask around among the players you know. Players have a limited number of invitations they can share with their friends.

The Time Of The Season

Yesterday Larry Hurtado from down the road posted his annual ‘applying for admission to a doctoral programme in the UK’ guidance. That reminds me, in turn, to post my annual inivtation to come over and study at Glasgow.

Spread the word: I’m settling in here at Glasgow, and have gotten to a point where it would be sensible for me to begin working with PhD students.
If you’d like to go on and begin doctoral study of the New Testament, why not give Glasgow a serious thought? (Why not, also, if you want to study OT or theology or whatever? — but my colleagues can start their own blogs.) Glasgow is a terrific city; the University is a darn good one. The School of Critical Studies within which I work includes many fascinating colleagues from the English Language, English Literature, and Scottish Literature fields — including Kei Miller, whom I just met at the Re-Writing the Bible Conference). And Gifford Lectures!
I am especially well-suited to supervise work on questions specifically involving my work on hermeneutics and theology, or the Gospel of Matthew or the Epistle of James. I could easily enough stretch to cover other synoptics or the Pauline epistles, too.
If you are admitted to Glasgow’s postgraduate research program, you will modulate fairly directly into research and writing for your PhD thesis. I would expect to work closely with you, to ensure the high quality of your work and to ward off any unwelcome surprises when you present your thesis for defence. You would work among a care of very agreeable postgrad neighbours; right now, I believe that most of our students are working with the Centre for Theology, Literature, and the Arts (led by David Jasper). By the way, US students, this means no qualifying exams nor any GREs, and although you will have no required classes in the department (there may be some workshoppy classes to help prepare you for life as a teacher and writer), I will endeavour to make sure that you and your colleagues read well and widely in the course of your preparation. I am not inclined to send you out without confidence that you’re solidly grounded in your field of study.
If your readiness for research study is not immediately clear, you may be admitted for a research masters, during which you would demonstrate your academic mettle to the staff who might then admit you to postgraduate study.
Lovely city, agreeable institutional setting, wonderful colleagues, straight to work on research — what’s the catch? Well, if you’re from outside the UK (or, in a different way, the EU), you’ll probably have to arrange the financing of your program on your own. We have some aid for overseas students, but not much; don’t be hurt if we don’t have any for you. And of course, this is the worst academic job market in human history, for all qualified scholars at all levels from all institutions.
But if you have scholarship aid already, or don’t need to worry about that; if you’d like to study the New Testament (or Literature and the Arts) with me in a nifty locale, give a thought to applying here at Glasgow. And if you’d like to ask me about more details, email me at akm dot adam at gmail dot com.


To Larry’s column and to this invitation, I would only add that you will help your case immeasurably by demonstrating in your communication and application that you know the difference between ‘summarising a lot of previous research’ and ‘constructing a reasoned scholarly argument’. The more clearly you give the impression of someone who knows what she or he is about, who will be working from the start at making a strong case (rather than faltering toward discovering what you might write about), the better your chance of being admitted (and indeed, the better the chance that we can indeed elicit some grant support for you).
The University derives a benefit from admitting PG students, and I derive a benefit from supervising — so this invitation is far from disinterested. But you might want to bear it in mind when you consider applying to universities which have restrictive policies about graduate admissions.
One more thing — I’m working on a grant proposal which, if granted, would involve support for a graduate student in my area of hermeneutics. That’s trebly contingent, notice: I haven’t finished the grant proposal, and even once I submit it there’s no guarantee it’ll be granted, and if it’s granted there’s no guarantee it would be you — but if you’re interested, feel free to keep in touch.


There’s been some teeth-gnashing online about the impending demise of print issues of The Dandy, an extremely long-running print comic here in Scotland. Being a dinosaur myself, and an advocate of comics, I feel a twinge of regret at this news, and it’s made the more poignant by a sympathetic identification I’ve sometimes felt with Jonah (who appeared in The Dandy after a long run in The Dandy’s opposite number, The Beano. (I don’t think I’ve ever been in a reasonably unruly second-hand shop, car boot sale, or other treasury of cast-off wonders, where I haven’t seen a heap of copies of The Beano or The Dandy.)
On the other hand, all things must pass, and the proliferation of excellent webcomics demonstrates that comics themselves aren’t in danger — it’s the ‘print, then sell the hard copies’ business model that’s the problem. Without wanting to bore everyone by repeating what has often been said, great material will thrive online or in print — but some ways of organising payment and distribution are no longer functional. We may bemoan the passing of the milk cart (that is, ‘there are no more milk carts’, not ‘what just rolled past us?’), but a different mode of delivery hasn’t eliminated dairy foods.


Working on our visa extensions, course planning, writing/editing, reading a thesis, friends visiting. All pretty boring from the digital side of my profile, but that’s life on the physical side.

Two Dimensions of Affirmation

(Warning: in what follows I will indulge in unseemly, defensive self-promotion. I apologise; I hope that some day I am confident enough that readers have been persuaded by my arguments that I will relax and just let this sort of thing drift past.)
It’s always nice when your theoretical claims are backed up by experimental evidence. Well, maybe not always nice, if for instance you were making theoretical projections about global warming’s inevitable devastating effects — but at least you have the privilege of seeing that your warnings weren’t just unsubstantiated raving. But usually, when you say ‘According to my theory, X’ and then someone comes along and shows X on the basis of repeatable experimental data, you derive satisfaction from the confirmation of your insight.
So that’s wonderful.
There’s a second dimension, though, concerning whether anybody else knows that you made such a theoretical claim, and it’s to that end that I’m leveraging my small readership to call attention to recent casual experimental evidence in support of a claim I’ve been making for years. Specifically, Errol Morris (about whom I’ve enthused other times) has conducted an experiment that shows that the typeface in which people read a written piece affects their sense of the reliability of that writing. His experiment sieved responses to a question about hopefulness, probability, and scientific reliability to see whether the typeface in which the question was set affected responses to the question. The results showed that respondents put least credence in type set in Comic Sans, low confidence in Trebuchet and Helvetica, more confidence in Times Roman, and the most confidence in Baskerville (of the typefaces tested).
That’s welcome and reassuring, since I mentioned the relevance of typography to the soundness of academic writing (in that context, writing about New Testament theology) in Making Sense of New Testament Theology, the published version of my dissertation, page 184, note 35: ‘… it is important to remember that the material aspects of a published work (design, typography, printing and binding) are relevant to that work’s aesthetic impression’. I made that point again, specifically with regard to the extent to which typefaces contribute to persuasiveness, in ‘This Is Not a Bible’, published in New Paradigms for Bible Study: The Bible in the Third Millennium, ed. Robert Fowler et al. (Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 2004) page 11, where instead of Bembo, it cites Centruy Schoolbook, and instead of only Comic Sans it also cites Cooper Black. I make this point more extensively in my ‘Sensing Hermeneutics’ presentation, first given as ‘Seeing Hermeneutics and Difference’, at the SBL Bible in Ancient and Modern Media Section, in November 2003.
So there we are. In a strong version of the claim — which I don’t have time to support here, but which is 100% on my research agenda for the next couple of years — the ‘meaning’ of a claim is not separable from its appearance. In the meantime, you who teach can point out to students that Phil Renaud confirmed this phenomenon in the essays he submitted for marks; his essays in Trebuchet averaged a B-, his essays in Times Roman averaged A-, and his essays in Georgia averaged a full A.

Forward Into The Past

If anyone wanted to re-live the minutes between the abominable crackling produced by the connections in my microphone at last week’s service at the Cathedral, here’s a link to the video recording of that sermon at the Cathedral website. I promise, no staticky crackling during the sermon.

Follow-Up To Visa

Yesterday evening, Margaret reminded me that there’s an option whereby — for about £450 more — one can carry one’s application into a Border Agency office in person, go over it with an agent, make sure all the right bits are in the right places, get one’s biometrics recorded, and find out whether you’ve been approved in about 48 hrs. Since Leah reminded us that the delay between application and approval is very long (five months, for her), and since Margaret and I are both on the programme to deliver papers at the SBL/AAR meeting in November, and since I’m susceptible to particular stress about this process, we have reasons to fork over the extra £450 to apply in person.
At the same time, I’m offended that the government makes this process available in a way so discriminatory to poorer people. This is, after all, £450 on top of the £2250 we’re already paying. And there’s no guarantee that they’ll accept us, or (more pertinently, since we’re fully admissible by UKBA criteria) that we’ll get our passports back in time to go to the SBL meeting. I would rather not avail myself of the posh-boy option for people for whom £450 is a drop in the bucket — an option which wouldn’t be necessary, remember, if the process weren’t slow and confusing in the first place.
Such policies, combined with dispiriting news about the economy and employersbehaviour, displays ever more vividly the extent to which social policies are reinforcing a gap between those who can sail through these stormy waters and those who are thrown overboard. As one who’s clinging to the gunwales, I don’t especially like the alternatives of climbing aboard with privilege (and me dripping wet), or being left behind to tread water.

Would Be Proud To Accept Visa

‘Orwellian’ branding at the 2012 Olympics
(Photograph: John L. Walters @ Eye magazine)


I’m letting my nerves settle after an anxiety-wracked meeting with our HR staff. It’s that time of history again: visa renewal time! Woohoo!

We love living in Scotland, and I would never say anything negative about the Home Office. All hail our civil servants, and the pains they take to protect us from false brethren who would creep in privily to spy out our freedom! I just get extremely nervous about ambiguous forms when my livelihood (and £2,250 non-refundable) is at stake. One dumb mistake, and deportation and a significant financial loss (right at a time when the cash would be most needed) hang over my head.
At any rate, for the £2250 fee, this pair of mostly harmless lecturers get to apply to be permitted to continue teaching the youth of Scotland about Jesus and Paul and Early Church History and the saints and theology and ethics, then wait months to find out whether our application has been approved (I’m counting on the post-Olympic slump in applications — surely there must be one — to help speed our applications through). There will be feasting and dancing in Glasgow when the news comes out, but for now, fretting and scrimping and saving and after our application is complete and submitted, eager worrying about when we find out.

Posted using
(Photo Richard Denton at Mobypicture)
Margaret reminds me that no one we know has ever been turned down for renewal. This is good and reassuring. I will try to control my tendency to hyperventilate.
Might there not be a way of ascertaining that an applicant has been living productively and peaceably in the UK for three years, has a steady job, and hasn’t given the faintest sign of terroristic inclinations, all for a somewhat lower fee and at a somewhat more rapid turn-around time? Well, presumably, if it were possible to do things faster, at a lower fee, with equal thoroughness, the Home Office would do it. In the meantime, I’ll be trying to relax.