2023 International Sermon Studies Association Conference

Day One Summary

The 2023 International Sermon Studies Association Conference commenced on Friday, July 21, on the historic Christ Church campus in Oxford, England. Academics and experts from across the globe gathered to explore the conference’s central theme, “Sermons and Human Dignity.” Throughout the day, several key themes emerged, including the evolution of sermons through the ages, the relational nature of sermons, and the strong link between sermons and human dignity.

Fred Van Lieberg from the Free University of Amsterdam presented a comprehensive timeline tracing the development of sermons from medieval manuscripts to the modern era, where digitization, transcription, and translation have allowed sermons to reach larger audiences. Dicky Sofjan of the Graduate School of Universitas Gadjah Mada delved into the extensive history of Islamic sermons, demonstrating their consistent pattern throughout time. On the other hand, Keith Francis of Oxford Brookes University raised questions about completely trusting historical sermons, citing personal experiences with sermonists whose true convictions remained unclear despite having given hundreds of sermons.

The concept of sermons being relational in nature was a significant focus of discussion. Megan Dent from Keble College of Oxford emphasized how sermons are intimately connected to the daily lives of their listeners, stating,

“To live sermonically is to be awake to an existence that is about receiving and interpreting God and God’s word in the unlikeliest of places, which is to say right here in front of us.”

Emily Murphy Cope of York College of Pennsylvania further explored how sermons play a role in both ordinary and extraordinary contexts, deepening their impact on individuals and their lifestyles.

Paul Martens from Baylor University, the keynote speaker for the day, discussed the diverse definitions of human dignity as portrayed in sermons and other works. He emphasized the definition of human dignity as a “divine gift,” which suggests that it is bestowed by a higher power upon all people, rather than on a select few. William Skiles from Regent University urged the audience to reflect on the boundaries and barriers that divide society when recognizing universal human dignity, expressing his belief that society has forgotten what it means to be a “neighbor.” Leslie Pelon from Porterville College focused her remarks on a courageous female sermonist, who bridged societal barriers by delivering sermons in an era where women didn’t have access to leadership positions.

Owen Anderson of Arizona State University reaffirmed the right of all individuals to human dignity.

He stated, “The gospel was declared to all and, as such, affirms human dignity to all. There are no castes or types of people. All are level in their sin before God.”

by Emily Curtis Hooke, ICLRS Intern