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Presidential Address

President of the Society of Biblical Literature 2013
Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature
November 23, 2013
Baltimore, Maryland

Introduction given by Fernando F. Segovia Vice President, Society of Biblical Literature

Tonight it is my official task, my distinct honor, and my great pleasure to introduce to you, my fellow members of the Society of Biblical Literature as well as members of other learned societies in religion and theology in attendance, the person and work of Carol L. Meyers, the 122nd president of the Society.1 These introductions are by no means an easy [End Page 3] task, given the multiple and distinguished achievements and recognitions, both within the guild and without, garnered, over the course of many years, by the scholars who have received the enormous privilege of serving the Society in this capacity. Tonight is no exception. How, indeed, does one capture the life and output of our speaker? I shall try my best.

Professor Meyers enters the world of biblical studies, broadly writ, in the 1960s and ’70s. Upon graduation from Wellesley College in 1964, where she earned a bachelor of arts degree with a major in biblical history, literature, and interpretation, she went on to pursue graduate studies at Brandeis University in Near Eastern and Judaic studies, with a concentration in biblical studies, receiving her doctorate in 1975. Immediately afterwards, in 1976, she joined the Department of Religion at Duke University, where she has remained a member of the faculty until today and presently holds the May Grace Wilson Professorship of Religion. Professor Meyers thus belongs to that generation of academics who have been forever and indelibly marked, in one way or another, by these tumultuous but vibrant years.

These scholars were formed socially and culturally in the momentous decade of the 1960s. This was a time of tectonic political transformations across the globe, as liberation movements multiplied and flourished across the Third World, with the heightening of the Cold War between the First and Second Worlds as backdrop. This was also a time of widespread social unrest in the United States, as civil rights movements proliferated and strengthened throughout the country, with the intensification of the Vietnam War as background. They then entered the academy in the crucial decade of the 1970s. This was a time, in the wake of the social and cultural turmoil of the preceding decade, when the world of the university began to undergo, across its entire disciplinary spectrum, radical changes in its ranks, in the faces and voices of its members, as well as in its discourses and in the methods and theories of its critical repertoire.

Religious studies in general and biblical studies in particular proved no exception to these material and discursive developments. In fact, such a turn in the field may be symbolically identified with the launching of the journal Semeia in 1974, the fortieth anniversary of which will take place next year.2 It was precisely at this time, in the mid-1970s, that [End Page 4] Professor Meyers brought her doctoral studies to completion and embarked on her professional and scholarly career. To my mind, she represents an ideal signifier of the times—a product of and an agent in such years of transformation. In terms of faces and voices, she belongs to the first generation of women who break into the patriarchal world of the academy and the field of studies. In terms of method and theory, she stands with that circle of scholars who begin to reach out to other fields of study, such as the social sciences and feminist studies, for grounding and inspiration in the study of biblical antiquity. I should like to expand on these various dimensions of her pioneering presence and work.

To begin with, the 1960s witnessed, among a variety of movements for civil rights, the rise of the second feminist movement, with a goal of social justice for women throughout society and culture, which were perceived as gendered to the core. A major aim of the movement was to increase the presence of women in colleges and universities—in baccalaureate programs, in professional and graduate studies, and, ultimately, in academic...