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Bourdieu reads Jude: Approaching the Epistle of Jude 'Language and Symbolic Power'

Hultin, J.F. (2007) Bourdieu reads Jude: Approaching the Epistle of Jude 'Language and Symbolic Power'. In: Annual Meeting. Society of Biblical Literature, 17 - 20 November 2007, San Diego, CA


This paper applies Pierre Bourdieu's sociological approach to language, as exemplified in his "Language and Symbolic Power," to the text of Jude. This is, in a sense, an application of a form of speech-act theory, such as has been applied with good results to other short, anti-heretical writings from the New Testament. But Bourdieu's unique approach to linguistic practice is especially well suited for Jude and his world, and promises insights beyond what can be achieved with a Searlean approach. Because Jude was unwilling or unable to describe his opponents beliefs or practices with much clarity, Bourdieu's conviction that language is employed to achieve certain outcomes—rather than simply in the hopes of conveying information—is a particularly promising point of departure. Jude's language is amazingly skillful and allusive and acerbic, but also amazingly uninformative; a socio-linguistic approach that de-emphasizes "meaning" is ideal. Jude can thus be conceived more as performance and as act and less as communiqué. Bourdieu's concepts of field and capital can be applied productively to Jude as an utterance. Each field has its particular rules, which shape what will be capital. With Bourdieu, we can ask how Jude, in the very act of writing his letter, was trying to alter the linguistic rules so as to alter, in his particular "field," the distribution of its forms of capital. Furthermore, each linguistic market will determine the value of a particular utterance, and hence competent utterances will reveal the market's social structure. Thus we can learn not only about Jude and his effort to change the rules of the game in his own favor, but also about the social structure that constrained his linguistic options.

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