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Conference to discuss 400th anniversary of King James Bible

One of the world’s best-selling books, the King James Bible, is celebrating its 400th anniversary this year, and this weekend Ohio State will take part with a conference focusing on the Bible’s impact on literature.

The international conference, The King James Bible and Its Cultural Afterlife, is beginning Thursday and will continue through Saturday at the William Oxley Thompson Memorial Library and the Ohio Union.

John Acker, a graduate assistant in the English department, helped organize the conference.

“In part, it’s a literary conference. It’s about the cultural, and specifically, literary influence of the King James Bible, which is at the 400-year mark from the first publication,” Acker said.

Acker said the conference will not focus solely on theology and invites people of all religious beliefs to discuss “the single most important book, or collection of books, in the western tradition, arguably in the world.”

Hannibal Hamlin has been organizing the three-day conference for over a year and the event has already gained international recognition from media outlets like The Economist.

“What I wanted to do was to bring together people from a whole variety of fields and periods to talk about the different ways in which this Bible has influenced the literatures and cultures that they study,” Hamlin said. 

The keynote speaker David Norton, an English professor at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, said in an email to The Lantern that he will be speaking about “ways in which the Bible is present in our culture, language, and literature.”

Norton said he will focus his speech on “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Brontë because of the novel’s use of the Bible and religious imagery.

The conference plans to incorporate classic English novels while also including biblically-influenced contemporary literature.

“This conference is the one I have most been looking forward to. There will be more of the people whose work I know and respect here than at any other conference I am going to,” Norton said.

Edward P. Jones, who won a 2004 Pulitzer Prize for his book “The Known World,” will be a guest speaker at the conference. His talk will begin at 8 p.m. Friday in the Performance Hall at the Ohio Union, and is free and open to all students and faculty.

Jones’ novel, which takes place in 1855, Virginia, features “a school of characters that would have grown up reading the King James Bible,” Jones said.

Jones said he plans to talk about the prominence of the Bible in his novel.

Both Hamlin and Acker were enthusiastic about his part in the conference.

“I’m particularly hoping that the word gets out to the student community about the Edward Jones talk, which I think is a rare opportunity. He’s an amazing writer, and people like that don’t just come to Columbus all that often,” Hamlin said.

Acker was excited about the opportunity to look at the Bible in a more creative light.

“The idea of engaging with the Bible in a more directly creative sense is something I’m interested in,” Acker said. “Jones writes in the African-American tradition, and that’s historically one that’s dealt a lot with the Bible.”

The conference on Friday will consist mostly of expert panels, while Saturday will include seminars with roundtable discussions about the participants’ writings on seminar topics.

Hamlin and Acker both said the conference will emphasize the scholarly importance of the Bible and its impact on literature.

“However you feel about it, positive or negative, this book has sold more copies than any other book in the world,” Hamlin said.

The international conference was a major expense because of the travel costs of guest speakers coming from all over the world, Hamlin said.

Hamlin said he received a grant of $10,000 from the College of Humanities to help fund the conference, and the OSU Department of English will be contributing twice that amount. Shuttles, catering and reserving the space also figured into the cost, but Hamlin could not provide exact breakdowns.

The standard fee to attend the conference is $100, but those who do not pre-register online will be charged an additional $20. All OSU students and faculty must register, but can attend the conference for free.

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