OK, so it wasn't even slightly in my field, but still. It was in fact a lecture on Judaism as part of a series of adult education evening classes on world religions, organized as extramural teaching by the university. All in all, it was a lot of fun, though it didn't go at all as I'd expected.
The truth is I was quite underprepared for the talk; I ended up writing it in a couple of evenings this week. With a lot of lovely support and encouragement and extremely useful criticism from EM by IM. I very, very much appreciate her contribution. Anyway, so I had this framework, based on a rather babyish comparative religions booklet from the Scottish Interfaith Council (who stil don't have a respectable website). And I'd tried to massage it into something actually relevant, while making sure to keep a coherent structure.
What actually happened was that I gave the introduction, paused to collect my thoughts and then got pounced on with questions which didn't let up until long after the allotted time for the lecture. I think in many ways this is a good thing; people learnt what they wanted to know, rather than what I wanted to say. But I'm a little concerned that their impressions will be a bit muddled, I didn't have a chance to express things in logical order. And much as I like public speaking, being bombarded with questions by twenty-five people over the course of nearly two hours was quite an intense experience. I think the thing about presenting Judaism is that a lot of people are aware of it, and have some ideas (some false, some more-or-less true) about what Judaism is about, so they feel confident to ask questions.
Anyway, I'm going to record some of the questions here; may tidy this up at some point, but I want to get things down while they're fresh in my mind. Predictable questions: How can you go about calling yourselves the 'Chosen People'? What's the position of women in Judaism? Is Judaism a race or a religion? I gave pretty fence-sitting answers to most of those, trying to strike a balance between toeing the 'party line' and presenting my own personal view of Judaism and dispelling negative stereotypes.
Rather sweet questions about clarifying the meaning of random Hebrew and jargon words that people have come across; a very bizarre selection, from useful words like kosher, Talmud, Ashkenazi and Sephardi, and so on, to completely random words like sabra and Kenesset, to awkward words like goyim and Ike. And the discussion got heavily sidetracked into linguistics (not that I even slightly encouraged this, oh no, of course not!) I ended up explaining the relationship between modern and classical Hebrew, the concept of a 'revived' language, the origins and development of Yiddish, the historical position of Aramaic, and a bunch of other similar things.
Some questions that were blatantly about people pursuing their own agenda: Why do Jews reject Jesus as the Messiah? Why bother with all this tradition and religion stuff anyway, all it does is divide people, why can't you just treat people decently and stop all these religious wars etc etc? I dealt with those fairly perfunctorily. And some frankly bizarre questions: To what extent is Islam based on Judaism? (hello? how am I supposed to know that?!) How do Jews interpret this NT passage? Can you recommend me a reasonable, balanced and accessible book on the history of the Middle East conflict? Lots and lots of variations on 'What is the Jewish view on the afterlife?', despite my saying repeatedly that it's not something that Jews bother about very much, plus there isn't anything like a consensus.
And random questions: Who are those funny guys with black hats and sidecurls that you see on planes swaying and babbling away? What's your favourite passage of the Bible? How can I present Judaism so that it will sound appealing to teenagers? How did Cain and Seth manage to find wives and become the ancestors of humanity? Is there a spiritual reason for separating meat and milk?
The handout is up on my webpage if anyone's interested. I'm afraid it's in Word format; geeks, don't shoot me yet, I plan to make it HTML at some point, I did it that way because I was writing it in a hurry. I also want to improve the content, particularly to incorporate some of EM's criticisms as well as the questions that people asked this evening. Anyway, this is the structure that I really didn't get through, due to being derailed with questions
I'm really very pleased with how this lecture went, actually. I think people enjoyed themselves, and learnt something, and I came across reasonably well. Wow.