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Prof. Valarie Ziegler Contributes Essay to Chronicle of Higher Education

February 22, 2013

"Adam and Eve are archetypal figures for secular and religious society alike, transplanted from their ancient setting to modern America, often with eyebrow-raising consequences," write Valarie H. Ziegler, professor of religious studies at DePauw University, and Linda S. Schearing, professor in the department of religious studies at Gonzaga University. In this week's Chronicle of Higher Education, the authors of the new book, Enticed by Eden: How Western Culture Uses, Confuses, (and Sometimes Abuses) Adam and Eve, note, "The biblical first couple has been used to sell consumable goods and strange ideologies -- both salacious and holy -- in sometimes hilarious, sometimes shocking ways."

According to the two professors, who chair their respective departments, "These are of more than passing interest, for even superficial references to Genesis are never without consequence, particularly for power dynamics between women and men. Eden represents the perfect society, and Eve and Adam are never simply individuals, but rather templates for those who come after them."

LGL1630bZiegler (pictured at left) and Schearing add, "Significantly, whether attempting to recreate the original Garden or recycling images from Eden for secular purposes, most American interpreters describe Eve as a secondary creation, subordinate to and subversive of Adam. That dismissive characterization circumscribes and influences the identity not just of women and girls but of men and boys, too ... Jokes about Adam and Eve are jokes about us all. Are they offensive? Absolutely. They assume and perpetuate stereotypes that discriminate against women or against men. But jokes can offend while retaining plausible deniability. After all, it's only a joke ... isn't it?"

The piece is titled, "Eden's Enduring, Troubling Enticements." It concludes, "In the end, stories of origin -- either viewed as scripture or as a toolbox of ideas -- are powerful. Genesis 2 contains a story of harmony, when people lived in peace with one another and with the earth. Is it any wonder that that should be appealing? But readers across time have never lived under those conditions. They live in the disharmony that characterizes the story world of Genesis 3 and what follows it. As long as nostalgia for the idyllic past survives in Western society, people will earnestly strive for it, or ritualize its tantalizing, ever-just-out-of-reach seductions. Whether in hope or in resigned longing, they will insist -- as the Joni Mitchell song proclaimed -- that 'we've got to get ourselves back to the garden.' "

The complete essay is available to subscribers at the Chronicle's website.

The professors also wrote a Valentine's Day-themed op-ed for the Huffington Post.

Learn more about Enticed by Eden in this recent summary.

Source: Chronicle of Higher Education

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