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Dr. Virginia Wiles

Professor of New Testament Explores Stand-Up Comedy


Dr. Virginia Wiles has been named a Faculty Fellow for 2012-13 by the Society for the Arts in Religious and Theological Studies. She is working on a project entitled, "A Habit of Surprise: Comedy as a Strategy for Interpreting cripture." A small grant allowed Dr. Wiles to spend September and October in Chicago where she took a class in stand-up comedy from comedian Kelsie Huff. At the conclusion of the course each student performed a comedy monologue in a Comedy Showcase at The Lincoln Lodge in Chicago. In her grant proposal, Dr. Wiles asserted that an embedded study of comedy might well offer some clues for biblical interpretation.

"I want to find ways to nurture what might be called a habit of surprise in our relationship to scripture, a way of learning to expect the unexpected when we read a Biblical text. The question is: Can you teach someone to be surprised? Is it possible to teach someone how to have (more) Aha! experiences? I think it is.

Professional comedy is a significant cultural practice and performance art that relies on the skill of the writer and performer to surprise the audience time after time after time. A joke is, in short, a surprise. Such comedy demands an ability to ferret out cultural assumptions and then to present those assumptions in an alternative light, by means of a re-interpretation that surprises the audience."

A sabbatical during the fall of 2012 has enabled Dr. Wiles to focus on this project. She is working on a book of exercises for individuals and groups to use in their ongoing encounter with scripture: 100 PLAYDATES WITH THE BIBLE.. When Dr. Wiles returns in the Spring of 2013 she will be teaching a course related to her research, "Parables, Prophecy, and Parody." Alumnae are invited to join the course.






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