Q&A with Harvard Theological Review’s New Editor Giovanni Bazzana

November 17, 2020
Giovanni Bazzana is Professor of New Testament at HDS.
Giovanni Bazzana is Professor of New Testament at HDS. Photo by Steve Gilbert

One of the oldest scholarly theological journals in the United States has a new editor.

Harvard Divinity School Professor of New Testament Giovanni Bazzana became the new editor of Harvard Theological Review on July 1.

Founded 112 years ago, HTR provides a forum for scholars of religion and theology. Issued quarterly, it publishes compelling original research that contributes to the development of scholarly understanding and interpretation in a variety of fields. Its circulation includes thousands of libraries around the world, as well as individual subscribers. The numbers do not include those who receive convenient electronic access through their university libraries. HTR is a participant in Cambridge University Press’s expansive aid donation program, which provides free or low-cost access to over 7,000 institutions in over 100 low GDP countries throughout Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America, and the Pacific Islands.

Bazzana takes over from HDS Professors Jon Levenson and Kevin Madigan who served as co-editors for the last decade. Madigan was recently named Faculty Dean of Eliot House.

Below, Bazzana discusses his background and research interests, research areas in which HTR will try to expand, and the place he sees for the journal in our current age.

Harvard Divinity School: Can you briefly discuss your background and what interests you as a scholar?

Giovanni Bazzana: My research and teaching focus chiefly on the critical study of the early Christ movement and of early Christianity in the context of Second Temple Judaism and of ancient Mediterranean history, religions, and material cultures. My writing is centered on gospels and apocalypses (both those that became canonical and those that were ultimately excluded from the canon). The research on these texts is conducted in constant reference to the broader social, political, and economic developments that impacted the Mediterranean world between the Hellenistic period and Late Antiquity. Ultimately, any study of the past originates from interests and passions of the present. Thus, my work does not strive only to interrogate ancient texts and practices in order to address current issues, but it is mindful of the ways in which our understanding and even imaginations of antiquity are profoundly shaped by present concerns.

HDS: What interested you about taking on this role?

GB: I must admit that I read HTR avidly when I was a student, even before imagining the possibility of having a career in this field, let alone having the opportunity to be the editor of such a well-respected journal. So, the invitation to succeed Jon Levenson and Kevin Madigan came as a great honor and a great source of excitement (I did not fully realize how much work was involved...). Seriously though, I also feel that being the editor of such an important journal is also an opportunity to influence the entire field of religious studies, hopefully pushing it in new and positive directions. It is one of the few cases in the academy that one can legitimately feel that one's work is actually having an impact beyond the very few readers of any strictly academic book or the selected students who are attending my classes.

HDS: What types of articles has HTR historically published and are there areas into which you would like to see the journal expand?

GB: At its origin, more than a century ago, the journal was organic to the nature of HDS. So, it was a journal devoted to the subjects that were of interest for scholars training students to be ministers in Christian denominations (theology, church history, and biblical studies). Particularly after World War 2, HTR had great editors, who were for the most part giants of New Testament scholarship in those decades. The result was that, through the years, HTR became a world-leading journal in historical theology and biblical studies approached from a strongly philological and historical-critical perspective. But, in the meantime, the field of New Testament studies has changed radically to include different approaches that are no longer exclusively historical-critical. I think that it would be natural for HTR to expand in those directions, to include more examples of work done, for instance, in contextual hermeneutics or with theory, just to name two cases. Likewise, HDS has changed a lot over the last couple of decades and now the School is much stronger in those areas that were once labeled as "world religions." That is another expansion that is needed and it is important to acknowledge that Levenson and Madigan have already done a significant amount of groundwork in this direction (especially with Judaism and Islam).

HDS: In the last few years, the journal has streamlined the submission and review process, reduced delays in publication schedules, and made digital enhancements that have made it more efficient for both authors and reviewers. What other improvements do you wish to make happen?

GB: I believe that many leading journals now derive their strong editorial direction by having, from time to time, an issue or a portion of an issue focused specifically on a single subject or theme, often treated in three or four articles in dialogue with each other. I think that HTR could benefit by trying to have this kind of monographic or partially monographic issue sometimes. It would be a good means to expand in the directions I mentioned above and, if editorial responsibility for these issues were given to members of the HDS faculty, this could also be an opportunity to tap into the extraordinary energy and potential for innovation in religious studies that is around the School these days.

HDS: Marking HTR's centennial in 2008, the Rev. Peter Gomes said the journal "remains the vessel in which the hopes of new theological and intellectual collaboration can survive and flourish in each new and changing culture of the age." What place do you see for the journal in our current "new and changing culture of the age?"

GB: This is indeed a difficult age, and not only because of the pandemic, which impacts even an academic journal like HTR. This type of publication faces, on the one hand, the challenge coming from those who see academic discourse in general as too sophisticated and aloof from real-life concerns and needs. On the other hand, it is plain to everyone that the very notion of "truth" is under attack, with horrific political and social consequences. Can a journal like HTR have something to offer in this very precarious situation? I believe that we can give a positive answer to such a question, but the task is rather complicated. Like many other journals, HTR will have to become more attuned to the needs of present times, but without aiming to replace newspapers, which are in an irreversible state of crisis. That would mean losing the real strength of academic discourse, which is the capacity to reflect in a complex, deliberate, and ethical way on current questions and concerns. This is the only means through which the humanities can indicate the path toward more effective and concrete answers.

—by Michael Naughton