|Karl Plank Receives the 2008 Boswell Family Fellowship
October 28, 2008
Contact: Bill Giduz
Karl A. Plank, the J.W. Cannon Professor of Religion, will use his Boswell Fellowship for a project entitled “The Bible and the Self.” He will examine the interplay of philosophies of selfhood and interpretation of scripture among several prominent Jewish thinkers.
The project brings together two lines of inquiry that have interested Plank during his entire 26-year tenure at the college. “I’ve published an article or two about it already, and been puzzling over what an expanded version should cover,” he commented. “This fellowship will give me a means to sit down and try to develop my thinking. It’s an occasion to reflect on the relationship between biblical studies and modern Jewish thought, areas I’ve taught for many years. It will be fun to have the time chase the question and clarify the project.”
He will be able to conduct his research and writing at home and school, and is eager to begin seriously rereading many books he’s taught through the years in his courses, “Modern Jewish Thought,” “The Genesis Narrative,” and “The Exodus Tradition.”
“It’s very liberating to have a full year for the work,” Plank said. “On a large project like this, momentum is everything. In just one semester you hardly get going before it’s time to return to teaching.
Plank has developed and offered more than twenty courses and seminars at Davidson. A partial list of their titles speak to his quest to make intellectual matters relevant to today’s students—“Parables of the Jewish and Christian Traditions,” “Modern Jewish Literature,” “Tragedy and Comedy in Biblical Narrative,” “The Genesis Narrative,” “Wisdom Literature,” and “Modern Jewish Thought.”
Plank’s prolific spirit of inquiry, devotion to students, and a remarkable record of service on major committees has been appreciated on campus. His peers elected him as the Vice-Chair of the Faculty, pro tem in 2000, and he won the college’s Thomas Jefferson Teaching Award in 2002.
He earned his B.A. from Hanover College, and his M.Div., M.A., and Ph.D. degrees at Vanderbilt University. He joined the college in 1982, and held the Cannon chair since 1996.
He has written two books. "Paul and the Irony of Affliction," a literary critical study of 1 Cor. 4:9-13 and theological reflection on irony, appeared in 1987. "Mother of the Wire Fence," a hermeneutic study of holocaust art and poetry, was published in 1994.
The latter explores the boundaries that lie between those outside and inside the experience of the Holocaust, attempting to bridge the gap with poetry, artifact, memory, and religious symbol. He establishes an ethics of encounter for experiencing the Holocaust without either forsaking difference or avoiding responsibility. He defines a middle course between those who empathize too closely with a horror they never experienced, and those who avoid it altogether. The book includes some of his own poetry about the Holocaust, and the poetry and prose of several others, that appropriately contends with the horror and offers a challenge to avoid a similar phenomenon in the future.
He has also written several dozen articles in professional journals such as Judaica, Judaism, Literature and Theology, Anglican Theological Review, and Cistercian Studies. They primarily concern Biblical hermeneutics, contemporary midrash, Thomas Merton, holocaust studies and Jewish-Christian relations. An accomplished poet, he has also published many poems in campus and other publications.
He is an organist, a Celtic fiddler and mandolin player, and has served as a youth baseball coach.
Posted By: Bill Giduz