About Nida Institute
Nida Institute is the research, service, and professional development arm of the New York City-based American Bible Society and a founding member of the Italy-based San Pellegrino University Foundation.
Established in 2001 by the ABS Board of Trustees, its scholarship and programs of professional development, translation, and service play strategic roles in supporting the ABS brand and identity.
The Nida Institute: Translating (Sacred) Texts in a Trans-disciplinary Way
The founding of the Eugene A. Nida Institute for Biblical Scholarship in 2001 opened a center of scholarship and research at the New York City-based American Bible Society. Although the Institute has continued the 185-year-old ABS tradition of Bible translation, it has also set in motion fresh thinking about translation in general.
From the outset, the Nida Institute engaged with modern, interdisciplinary translation studies and drew from it stimulating insights about translation’s nature and scope, ethical and cultural implications, and ideological and institutional forces. This engagement fostered, among other things, a commitment to modern translation studies as a laboratory for the research, training, production and quality control that characterized our own work.
During this period, questions arose about translation studies as ‘interdisciplinary’. We found that presuming disciplinary categories oversimplifies translation as a profession, an art, a science, a form of cultural mediation, and a literary and print-based activity. To try to account more fully for translation, the Nida Institute, along with translation studies scholars who have taken the cultural turn, has taken the position that translation is a sign-based form of human behavior and cognition. We find the field, in fact, trans-disciplinary: inherent in all human activity and in all academic and professional disciplines to the extent we need to communicate within and across the sign systems that comprise, for example, language, literature, religion, culture, media, time, space, memory and imagination.
Sacred Text Translation and Translation Studies
The influence of modern translation studies reveals itself in the way that the Nida Institute defines Bible translation as ‘sacred text translation’. This shift in terminology signals that Bible translation is not sui generis but belongs to a larger genre. The expression also conforms to our view that all forms of translating and interpreting are potential equals, or, to put it in semiotic terms, all sign systems are potential equals. Concretely, this means that sacred text translation finds its place not above or beyond other forms of translating and interpreting—literary, performance, artistic, media, scientific, legal, dubbing, and subtitling—but among and with them. The Institute’s own work reflects the growing influence of modern translation studies.
Sacred Text Translation and Trans-disciplinarity
The desire to treat translation in a trans-disciplinary way has consequences. There is, for example, a commitment to study translation not only in the traditional disciplines and from established perspectives, in conjunction with literature, religion, and culture, but wherever translation phenomena show themselves. A trans-disciplinary approach would find objects of research even in the performance of a musical score or stage play; cognitive activities such as memory, dreaming, and meaning-making; or the models and methodologies of science and technology.
A trans-disciplinary approach also seeks to identify and study themes that transcend any one discipline or activity or set of disciplines and activities. It would want to study features of meaning-making such as similarity and difference, heterogeneity, boundaries, technology, forgetfulness, and cognition.
Applying this New Approach: Nida School of Translation Studies
Following several years of generous tutorship in the renowned CETRA program, we launched our own Nida School of Translation Studies in 2007. Designed to put into practice a trans-disciplinary view of translation and to incorporate sacred text translation in the work of modern translation studies, the Nida School meets annually for two weeks in May/June. It provides post-doctoral scholars, and a limited number of advanced doctoral students, with an intense program of lectures, workshops, readings, and tutorials. The School welcomes associates who have research and/or field experience in translation and interpreting of any kind, and the capstone experience is the presentation of their own research.
[Published in In Other Words, summer 2010/ No. 35, 57-59. British Centre for Literary Translation, University of East Anglia, Norwich, England.]