Dr. Roshan Abraham: A Day Lecturer’s Origin Story

A picture of Roshan Abraham at a microphone speaking.

Dr. Roshan Abraham is our 2019 Day Lecturer. Prof. Newton was able to chat with him to learn a little bit more about his training and his scholarship.

We’ve heard you’ll be talking about the Bible and comics. Comics often involve origin stories. What’s your scholarly origin story?

I don’t really have a simple story about my academic training; I got to the study of religion through a very circuitous route. I’ll try to keep it brief.

I did my undergraduate studies at the University of Kansas, majoring in English and Classical Languages. When I went on to my PhD program at the University of Pennsylvania, I became interested in the ethnography of India in Greek Literature, which lead my to Apollonius of Tyana, the first century Neopythagorean sage who journeyed to India to study with the Brahmans. At the same time, I developed an interest in ancient magic, and, as luck would have it, a central part of Apollonius’ biography was the accusation of being a magos (a “magician”). At this point, all of my training was as a classicist, but, having grown up as a PK (preacher’s kid), it was hard for me not to notice similarities between Apollonius’ biography and the synoptic gospels.

 

You can learn more about Prof. Abraham’s work on the many lives of
Apollonius on the podcast, Hold That Thought.

The year I started my dissertation was the same year Annette Reed joined the religious studies department at Penn, which was on the other end of the hall from Classical Studies. Annette introduced me to the study of religion and, over the course of writing my dissertation, gave me all of my initial training in religious studies. I’d audit her courses, she’d give me reading lists, and, despite the fact that she wasn’t on my dissertation committee, she would spend countless hours discussing second temple Judaism, early Christianity, and religious studies theory and methodology. I got hooked quickly, but, since all of my religious studies training was essentially “off the books,” the likelihood of being able to continue in the field was very slim.

I was lucky, however, to have been hired at Washington University in St. Louis, jointly appointed in the Department of Classics and the Program in Religious Studies. During my time at WashU, I had so many opportunities to engage with Religious Studies, through teaching, advising, curriculum development, and professional service, and I found my disciplinary home in the academic study of religion.

Honestly, one of the many honors of having been invited to give the Day Lecture is knowing that Annette Reed is going to be your Aronov lecture in the same academic year.
I left WashU in 2016, due to a family decision to move to the DC area, and have since been following a non-traditional route in the academy. After three years of adjuncting at Georgetown, George Mason, and American University, I was hired as an advisor/instructor in American University’s First Year Program. I’m fortunate to have found a full-time position that still grants me opportunities to teach religious studies.

A gif of the A-team discussing how, "I love it when a plan comes together."

And we are fortunate to have you both visiting us here at The University of Alabama. Can you give us a little preview of what you’ll be discussing.
My talk is centered around the question: why does the Noah story have so much saliency right now in comics? The question arose after seeing three different comic book stories adapting or in some way inspired by the Biblical story of the Great Flood: Cullen Bunn and Juan Doe’s Dark Ark, Jason Aaron and r.m. Guera’s The Goddamned, and Darren Aronofsky, Ari Handel, and Niko Henrichon’s Noah (the graphic novel on which the Russel Crowe movie is based). These works are not merely adaptations, however, since the visual language of comics makes these works into acts of translation. I draw on Walter Benjamin’s theory of translation as an act of creation, belonging to the after-life of a text. I’ll be looking at how the visual language of comics reveal how new layers of meaning and interpretation are added on to the text and how these layers of meaning connect with political and theological agendas. This is equally found in confessional adaptations of the bible, such as in The Action Bible and The Kingstone Bible, works that are explicitly designed for theological education and proselytization.

We look forward to hearing more!

Mark your calendars for the 2019 Day Lecture with Dr. Roshan Abraham. Tuesday, October 15, 2019 at 7:00pm in ten Hoor 30. And tune in Friday to the Study Religion blog to find out more about Dr. Abraham, his research, and his teaching. To keep up on social media, follow along at #Day2019.

 

On Paying Attention to Politicians Signing Bibles

Geoff Davidson graduated from the University of Alabama Religious Studies Department in 2009 before earning his M.Div. at Baylor University’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary. He is now a minister, writer, and library information specialist at Baylor.

Late last week President Trump was seen autographing Bibles while surveying the effects of a devastating tornado in eastern Alabama, leading to skirmishing in both news media and religious communities. There were those who dismissed this incident immediately, and why shouldn’t they? Why should a signed Bible merit discussion in the face of any other pressing political or religious topic de jour?

For the scholar of religion, such easy dismissiveness is a good way to miss important data. Christians, not a monolithic lot by any stretch, have been hotly divided on the topic with some leveling serious religious charges against both the president and those who asked that their Bibles be signed. This disagreement warrants accurate reflection in its own right, but it also points to critical underlying issues: how Christians see their holy texts and how this affects their actions. Continue reading

But Why Is It Interesting?

I’ve seen a variety of posts on social media about the recently-opened Museum of the Bible in Washington DC. While some have been pointing out the legal problems surrounding how the museum has acquired some of its artifacts, others contest how the museum presents its material. In other words, there are those who see it as nothing less than “evangelical propaganda” — and some of those holding this position seem to be scholars of the bible. Continue reading

Approaching the Bible

256px-Neil_deGrasse_Tyson_at_Howard_University_September_28,_2010By Max Hartley
Max Hartley is a senior studying Anthropology and Asian Studies, with a focus on East Asia. She is particularly fascinated by mythology, religion, and the influence of folk religions in the modern age, as well as shamanism in its many forms, particularly as it is practiced in Korea.

This article from the Huffington Post, notes prominent physicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson stating “don’t try to use the Bible as a textbook.” This small statement could mean a lot in its implications. Continue reading