RIP, Department of Biblical Studies, University of Sheffield

This unpleasant bit of news from Sheffield has me pretty unhappy (via Philip D.)-

sheffThe Senate of the University of Sheffield has endorsed the proposal of the Pro-Vice-Chancellor (=Dean) for Arts and Humanities to disband the Department of Biblical Studies.

Its undergraduate degree in Biblical Studies and Theology will remain, but administered by the Department of Philosophy; members of the existing staff will be moved to other Departments; and a Research Institute for Biblical Studies is being created (no new resources and a very part-time Director), within the Faculty.

At present several details and implications remain to emerge, and I hope to issue a full report in late August or early September, when there will be an opportunity for any concerned to address themselves to the University authorities. For the moment, however, further information and explanation should best be addressed to Hugh Pyper, the current Head of the Department (, who in fact made the proposal for disbanding the Department. He is best placed to give an authoritative explanation for what seems to many a perverse decision. But it must be appreciated that all the members of the Department have been instructed not to comment unofficially on these developments, and might face disciplinary action for doing so. Hence you will receive only an ‘official’ response. For the moment, this will have to do and you are welcome to believe or otherwise what you may be told.

It’s quite unsettling.  And just plain wrong.  One of the greatest Departments of Biblical Studies has been disemboweled.

UPDATE:  Hugh has remarked on Facebook-

Not to my knowledge! Although it is true that the Department as such will not continue in its present form, the degree courses in Religion Theology and the Bible will continue as before and indeed we are looking to increase our intake especially into a Philosophy and Religion Degree. We have been promised a new member of staff to do this and the university has undertaken to maintain the current staff levels. Research is moving to a new Institute for Interdisciplinary Biblical Studies which the university has undertaken to underwrite for its running costs and to provide three PhD scholarships in Biblical Studies. I think that funeral celebrations for Biblical Studies at Sheffield are a bit premature. As with all such transitions, there have been a number of points that still need clarification and some issues around staffing where the people are entitled to confidentiality, but I have not encountered any suggestion of a ban on comment.”

The problem is not so much with what Hugh says as with what he doesn’t say.   He doesn’t address the core issue- the closing of the department.  And who on earth has said anything about ‘celebrations’?

The problems remain and the situation remains very distressing.

22 thoughts on “RIP, Department of Biblical Studies, University of Sheffield

  1. Daniel Ortiz 4 Jun 2014 at 7:42 am

    that is sad….not happy with my alma matter


    • Janet Hanmer 4 Jun 2014 at 9:23 am

      So sad, this is a unique world renowned and respected department and I give thanks that I was privileged to have passed through its doors.


      • Jim 4 Jun 2014 at 9:26 am

        It is indeed. And the worst bit- it’s totally unnecessary.


  2. Chris Jones 4 Jun 2014 at 10:37 am

    Similar develop at my alma mater, UW Madison. Department of Hebrew and Semitic Studies was disbanded, and the Ph.D program is now administered by the classics department. In our case, it’s probably a good thing. Otherwise, the program itself might be on the chopping block. But definitely part of a trend.


    • Ronald L. Troxel 5 Jun 2014 at 8:57 am

      Quite right, Chris. The one modification I want to make is that our program’s merger with Classics will also involve a change of their department’s name to Classical and Ancient Near Eastern Studies. Jeremy Hutton and I will be members of the executive committee, so we will be involved with governance of both programs. We and Classics are interested in keeping the distinctive profiles of our graduate programs, so nothing curricular will change. The loss of our department is sad, but must be put in the context of the wave of departmental closures and mergers occurring throughout campus in a quest for greater efficiencies and increased vitality. Jeremy and I foresee our program’s merger with Classics accomplishing precisely the latter goal.


      • Jim 5 Jun 2014 at 9:07 am

        That’s all well and good but has nothing to do with the closure of a biblical studies department and the dispersion of tge faculty to other departments. It’s not simply a matter of reorganization but elimination.


      • Ronald L. Troxel 5 Jun 2014 at 9:17 am

        My concern, Jim, was to clarify that our program, while losing its setting in Hebrew and Semitic Studies, will remain intact. At the same time, it is worth noting that one might well say that our department faculty are being dispersed to other departments, since the modern Hebrew faculty and staff will now be part of Jewish Studies. With regard to Sheffield, I would add that the establishment of the Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies may be more than a sop. We have many “centers” and “institutes” at the UW-Madison that are as vital as departments. In fact, the Center for Jewish Studies, which our modern Hebrew faculty will join, is a case in point. Reorganization does not mean elimination, as painful as it is. Incidentally, one of the many things I have learned through this process is how conservative faculty are; we do not deal well with change. As iconoclastic as we claim to be intellectually, we tend to cling to our established institutional settings.


        • Jim 5 Jun 2014 at 9:50 am

          I hope you’re right and at Sheffield it is more than sop. But I’m skeptical, since plans have been in the works for what appear to be several years to bring the Bib st. department to an end. Completely.


  3. Bryan 4 Jun 2014 at 10:49 am

    Same thing happened in 2009, but we Bibs won that round, this is sad.


  4. John Lyons 4 Jun 2014 at 12:03 pm

    There are a good many questions that need answering here, not least how a plan once discredited has made such an unwelcome and victorious (if one can call it that) reappearance and how the goodwill that was clearly available to the new Head of Department appointed to rebuild the department after the 2009 fiasco, David Chalcraft, was apparently lost so easily. What a disaster…


    • Rev. Simon 4 Jun 2014 at 1:20 pm

      I always thought it very peculiar that Sheffield appointed a sociologist. Why did they do that?


  5. Rev. Simon 4 Jun 2014 at 1:32 pm

    Good grief! Why on earth would the Head of Department make a “proposal for disbanding the Department”? Disgusting.


    • Ronald L. Troxel 5 Jun 2014 at 8:51 am

      You’re assuming that this was his idea. Having been in this position, I’m certain that it was not. But if Sheffield is like UW-Madison, policy requires that department closings be initiated by the department. That is far different than it being the department’s idea.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Jim 5 Jun 2014 at 8:53 am

        You’re certain?


      • Ronald L. Troxel 5 Jun 2014 at 9:33 am

        I know it for a fact at the UW-Madison and would not be surprised if this is a rather widespread policy, rooted in a concern for shared governance that guarantees protection for departments. In our case, we could have resisted proposing a closure of our department, but would have found ourselves in a funding pickle.


      • Old Sheffieldian 5 Jun 2014 at 12:38 pm

        It is common knowledge that this was imposed top down at the suggestion of the Head of Department as the letter clearly says.


      • Ronald L. Troxel 5 Jun 2014 at 3:45 pm

        The announcement says that the head of the department “made the proposal for disbanding the Department,” but that does not mean it was his “suggestion.” Again, in my institution, the department has to initiate a proposal to close the department; as a matter of university policy it cannot come from any other source. But I know from experience that there are ways to force a department head to sign the death warrant for her/his department by proposing that it be closed. “Propose” is a procedural term.


      • Ronald L. Troxel 5 Jun 2014 at 8:11 pm

        By the way, apropos of my surmise the “propose” is a procedural term, note that the beginning of the report states “The Senate of the University of Sheffield has endorsed the PROPOSAL of the Pro-Vice-Chancellor” The language is the same as used for the action by the head of the department.


  6. Bibs Alumni 4 Jun 2014 at 5:30 pm

    All the hard work that was carried out by staff, students, alumni and other petitioners three years ago (when the department was similarly under threat) has been completely undermined by the appointment of a Head of Department who was – I don’t think it is unfair to say – virtually unknown in Biblical Studies (and remains so) and who, three years on, seems to have very little measurable knowledge of the discipline. One is hard pressed to find publications by him of the same calibre as previous Heads of Department at Sheffield…or, indeed, any real publications at all. His strange step-down (?) from this position seems dubious, and his (temporary?) replacement by a member of staff who was HOD in the lead-up to the department’s near closure in 2011 makes one question whether the University have had any real intention of keeping the department open at all over the last few years.


  7. Bibs Alumni 4 Jun 2014 at 5:38 pm

    my apologies – the last threatened closure was 2009/2010, not 2011 as I said in the comment above. (Either way, still not long enough ago for history to be repeating itself!)


    • Jim 4 Jun 2014 at 5:40 pm



  8. Prof. Christian Uchegbue, Department of Religious and Cultural Studies, University of Calabar, Nigeria. 7 Jun 2014 at 4:23 pm

    It appears the HOD, Dean and Vice Pro- Chancellor of University of Sheffield are taking us back to the Comtian Age of Enlightenment which myopically saw the irrelevance of Religion and theology to human and social development. This is a gross intellectual abberation and travesty of scholarship in this contemporary inter- disciplinary age.


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