In 2014, the University of Sheffield closed what was arguably the most innovative and exciting Department of Biblical Studies in the United Kingdom. Sheffield Biblical Studies offered cutting-edge biblical scholarship in the subfields of literary criticism, cultural studies, political criticism, and Hebrew Bible/Old Testament historical criticism. Biblical Studies at Sheffield also boasted notable, colourful, and sometimes controversial scholars, including David Clines, Philip Davies, Keith Whitelam, Cheryl Exum, James Crossley, John Rogerson, Stephen Moore, David Gunn, Barry Matlock, Diana Edelman, Meg Davies, Andrew Lincoln, Yvonne Sherwood, and Loveday Alexander.
But now there is a …. New Sheffield!
In her introduction to the latest Biblical Interpretation, Yvonne Sherwood writes, “I say that our aim is to make Kent (in the south of England) a ‘new Sheffield’, and to draw on the ‘logo’ of this biblical studies city of the north” (“Futures, Presents and Gestures of Supersession: The Futures of Biblical Studies at the University of Kent“, Biblical Interpretation 25, no. 4-5 , 436). Sheffield has fallen to yet another supersession narrative in biblical studies:
We are not saying that the north has fallen to the Assyrians (and you can allegorise ‘the Assyrians’ however you please), nor do we want to simply territorialise the new Sheffield exclusively here in some imperial gesture. The futures of ‘Sheffield’ are diasporic. But we feel a great need to strategically open up a new institutional space that specifically supports the kind of interdisciplinary work that Sheffield represented here in the United Kingdom. Our vision is to have a large international Ph.D. community, like the kind of community that met at the Monday weekly research centre and then went for lunch at the local pub, The Bathfield, in Sheffield’s pasts. Groups appropriate a name and a story for a reason. To us it seems important to define ourselves as one of ‘Sheffield’s’ futures: ‘Sheffield’ here signifying the kind of international and interdisciplinary biblical studies that is particularly open to other disciplines and that works between the biblical pasts and the futures of those pasts. (p. 436)
If it is objected that Sherwood’s aims are too bold, the retort must be that this type of chutzpah is ‘Very Sheffield’. In fact, Sherwood’s vision of an audaciously interdisciplinary biblical studies, one which combines the philosophical ‘turn to religion’ with a more metacritical biblical studies, seems precisely what was envisioned by the authors of the programmatic volume, The Invention of the Biblical Scholar: A Critical Manifesto (2011). Biblical Studies at the University of Kent successfully marries Sherwood’s literary criticism with Ward Blanton’s interventions in Continental philosophy.
And if there is any doubt, there’s this fact: the University of Kent now houses David Clines’ library. Boom.
The University of Kent: More Sheffield than Sheffield.