Author: Patrick Clark

Should shame make a comeback?

A colleague friend of mine who works in Second Temple Judaism once quipped that a sure mark of an established Old Testament professor is an inclination toward public shaming in the classroom.  He then related some legendary anecdotes from his own education that backed up his claim, all of which I have to say were quite humorous.  They were humorous, of course, because of their incongruity with contemporary academic decorum, and because of the parallel incongruity we often perceive between modern and pre-modern societies where shaming was prominent, societies such as those depicted in the Hebrew Bible. Contemporary culture generally assumes the experience of shame to be a sign that something has gone wrong in the realm of human interaction.  Shame is pathological, and its source can almost always be traced back to an oppressive (and likely hypocritical) imposition of moral norms by an overreaching communal authority.  Hester Prynne bearing her scarlet “A” is often the first image that appears to the modern mind when considering whether shame is something we should endorse or condemn.  Old Testament teachers notwithstanding, we remain highly suspect of any state of affairs that would cause shame in any regular way.  Some have even criticized sex offender notification laws precisely on this basis.  Indeed, if shame has any appropriate place in our liberal society, it is reserved specifically for those who cause shame in others. That being said, a recent Master’s dissertation here at the University of...

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