Legaspi Leads Discussion on Biblical Studies at Merrimack College

As the keynote speaker for the 12th Annual Cassiciacum Dialogue at Merrimack College on Wednesday, Michael Legaspi, Instructor in Philosophy and Religious Studies, asked his audience to consider the the role of the Bible in modern society after presenting about his book, “The Death of Scripture and the Rise of Biblical Studies,” which examines the development of new ways of looking at the Bible in the 18th century. The Annual Cassiciacum Dialogue, a discussion led by distinguished philosophy scholars, takes place at Merrimack College every year. Legaspi’s research in this book explores the role of the Enlightenment in the development of new systems of biblical criticism that sought to replace older forms of biblical theology, according Legaspi. “Instead of looking at the Bible as a churchly book, or a theological work, they treated it as a kind of ancient literary classic with great cultural value. Their goal was to replace older, traditional forms of biblical study with a new scholarly kind of interpretation that would accord with the larger effort to produce rational, tolerant and loyal servants of the state. In this way, they deemphasized the religious dimensions of biblical study and aimed to make it a politically and socially useful enterprise in a new, modern framework,” wrote Legaspi in an e-mail to The Phillipian. Legaspi’s presentation took on a more modern perspective, considering Biblical education in contemporary culture and secularism in order to spark conversation among the audience members. “People talked about the American paradox: despite having a separation of church and state and a formally non-religious system of government, American culture has been influenced, and continues to be influenced by the Bible and its own distinct forms of Christianity,” wrote Legaspi in an e-mail to The Phillipian. Another topic of discussion was religious tolerance and how various forms of religious training can promote rationality, especially considering the fact that the Bible has been the inspiration for many important social movements such as Civil Rights. “If there is one thing I would be working for through my presentations, it is [to] sort of break down a lot of the false ideas people have about religion, that it is antithetical to democracy and to reason,” he said. “Instead, I think religion is an important part of shaping a society that is genuinely democratic, rational and peaceful. I hope people will come away from my presentation with a more nuanced, appreciative understanding of religion,” he continued. Legaspi hopes to spur discussion about the role of Bible in educational institutions, political discourse and society in general through his book and presentation. “I’m not a prophet, I’m not an expert or a guru. I don’t see myself as having a special wisdom to pass on, so really I am a facilitator trying to raise awareness and get fruitful conversations going about issues related to basically the role of religion in contemporary society,” said Legaspi. Legaspi’s book studies the creation of the academic Bible and its role in contemporary society, specifically focusing on the German Enlightenment of the 18th century. Legaspi started researching in 2003, spending a year in Germany to gather information on the topic. The book was published in 2010. Currently, Legaspi said that he is working on a second book about how different Jewish and Christian thinkers approached, articulated and applied the idea of wisdom in different settings and time periods. Legaspi drew his inspiration from a 2008 gathering including philosophers, economists, psychologists and political scientists to discuss what it means to have wisdom in current society, according to Legaspi. “The idea of wisdom really stood for the quest to understand how everything fits together, and we decided we would each go back to our area of disciplines and write something about [it]. How does the political relate to the social, how does the social relate to the moral, how does the moral relate to the intellectual and so on,” he said. In his third year at Andover, Legaspi teaches four religion-philosophy courses, including Religions of the Book, Introduction to New Testament, Views of Human Nature and Responses to the Holocaust. Prior to Andover, Legaspi taught at Creighton University, a Catholic Jesuit institution in Omaha, Nebraska, for four years. “I started teaching at Andover during summer session as a graduate student [at Harvard University] and I really grew to love this school. It was funny, I would teach [at the university] and then come here for the summer session, so I was always comparing the two. I realized that I liked being at Andover better. I found the students more engaged and intellectually curious and I have so much fun in the classroom,” said Legaspi. Born and raised in a devout Catholic family, Legaspi began to develop genuine interest for the Bible during his high school years. “The more I studied the Bible in an academic setting, the more interested I became in the question of what does this all have to do with us,” he said. “Clearly, this is not a society where authority of the Bible is accepted by everyone or a society where everyone is thoroughly Jewish, Christian or anything really, so I began asking what role does the Bible have in contemporary culture,” he continued. Legaspi has spoken at universities all over the country, including Harvard, Princeton and Duke. He has also travelled overseas to England to speak at the University of Saint Andrews and the University of Edinburgh. He will also visit the University of Cambridge later in the spring.