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Re: [XTalk] When Historians do Theology

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  • Mike Grondin
    ... (Says the theologian.) This is such a tired argument, Jim. It ignores the _content_ of presuppositions and a priori faith assumptions , as if any one were
    Message 1 of 16 , Apr 5, 2003
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      --- Jim West wrote:
      > ... "history" and "historical reconstruction" are more often
      > than not based on the "faith" of the writer of that particular
      > reconstruction. Or, to put it another way, historians operate
      > with a priori faith assumptions that privilege texts and harvest
      > presuppositions. In short, they are no different than theologians.

      (Says the theologian.) This is such a tired argument, Jim. It
      ignores the _content_ of presuppositions and "a priori faith
      assumptions", as if any one were as good as any other. (Does the
      presupposition that the subject of our study was a human being count
      as an "a priori faith assumption"?) Then you presume that historians
      do little more than "harvest presuppositions", which may certainly
      be regarded as a psychological tendency (how could it be
      otherwise?), but ignores the role of presuppositional change over
      time.

      > If one wants to
      > believe (as I do) that we're evolving toward the good within us,
      >
      > The good within Hitler? Hussein? Bush?

      Don't be silly. A few particulars don't disprove the general.

      > that too is a matter of faith, but at least it doesn't invoke all
      > the hoary old mythologies that we've invented to explain things to
      > ourselves.
      >
      > Yes it does. It involves the mythological view of the
      > Enlightenment and the presuppositions of Kant and the skewed
      > perspective of Freud (who saw phallics everywhere).

      By the "mythological view of the Englightenment", are you referring
      to the idea of an idyllic state of nature? Well, I don't believe in
      any such thing, so I don't see how that or Kant or Freud has
      anything to do with my "faith", such as it is (although Freud
      brought to the forefront the discovery that we often do things for
      reasons we aren't consciously aware of). I guess I have a more
      optimistic assessment of the vast sweep of human history than you -
      and not in any Hegelian sense either. It has to do with what I
      presume to be the evolution of the human mind, with a consequent
      increase in sensitivity to others. I'm aware of all the counter-
      factual evidence one can throw, and yet I think that _overall_,
      the direction is toward greater good than lesser. You may call
      that "faith", but it seems to me to be an accurate inductive
      judgment, even with respect to the small amount of history within my
      own lifetime.

      > At the end of _Jesus of Nazareth_, Allison opines that
      > without the notion of (a good) God, there's no hope. I'd opine
      > that this is putting the cart before the horse. The concept of a
      > good God is the cart, and the horse that pulls it (inherent human
      > hope) won't go away if the cart is detached from it.
      >
      > This too is a theological perspective; for whenever one speaks of
      > God, one is doing theology. But, theology is silly.... So you
      > have involved yourself in the same contradiction that you accuse
      > Allison of.

      In the first place, the contradiction that I saw in Allison's
      beliefs was that (1) the world is good, but yet (2) it's so bad
      that we can't fix it. I certainly haven't involved myself in any
      contradiction like that, that I can see. Secondly, I wasn't
      speaking "of God", I was talking about the _concept_ of God, which
      is quite a different thing (the mental image or construct of
      something isn't generally the thing itself).

      Mike Grondin
      Mt. Clemens, MI
    • Bob Schacht
      ... Here s the pot calling the kettle black. Silly is not a term of scholarship. As for a few particulars not disproving the general, I thought the whole
      Message 2 of 16 , Apr 5, 2003
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        At 03:58 AM 4/6/2003 +0000, Mike Grondin wrote:
        >...
        >
        >Don't be silly. A few particulars don't disprove the general....

        Here's the pot calling the kettle black. "Silly" is not a term of
        scholarship. As for a few particulars not disproving the general, I thought
        the whole idea of hypothesis testing was that a few particulars could
        indeed disprove the general.

        Bob


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      • Mike Grondin
        ... If the general is a universal of the form All X s are Y s . Human beings have two legs is a general statement, but not a universal, since there are
        Message 3 of 16 , Apr 5, 2003
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          --- Bob Schacht wrote:
          > As for a few particulars not disproving the general, I thought
          > the whole idea of hypothesis testing was that a few particulars
          > could indeed disprove the general.

          If the general is a universal of the form "All X's are Y's". "Human
          beings have two legs" is a general statement, but not a universal,
          since there are those born without legs. More importantly, we're
          talking about historical trends, sorta like the stock market going
          up over time. A temporary downturn or glitch doesn't disprove the
          historical trend.

          Mike Grondin
          Mt. Clemens, MI
        • Bob Schacht
          ... This is a taxonomic universal, which is not a very interesting form of hypothesis. The more interesting form of the general is statements of process that
          Message 4 of 16 , Apr 5, 2003
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            At 04:44 AM 4/6/2003 +0000, Mike Grondin wrote:
            >--- Bob Schacht wrote:
            > > As for a few particulars not disproving the general, I thought
            > > the whole idea of hypothesis testing was that a few particulars
            > > could indeed disprove the general.
            >
            >If the general is a universal of the form "All X's are Y's". "Human
            >beings have two legs" is a general statement, but not a universal,
            >since there are those born without legs. More importantly, we're
            >talking about historical trends, sorta like the stock market going
            >up over time. A temporary downturn or glitch doesn't disprove the
            >historical trend.

            This is a taxonomic universal, which is not a very interesting form of
            hypothesis. The more interesting form of the "general" is statements of
            process that express a relationship between two or more variables. The law
            of gravity, for example, is certainly a general statement with a very
            precise meaning. It can, in principle, be falsified by a contrary
            "particular," but none have been found. You also fail to distinguish
            between general statements in universal (absolute) form, and general
            statements in normative form. What you've done in your response is, in
            essence, to defend your claim by restricting the definition of "general".

            Bob

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          • Davis, Robert C.
            Dear Friends: Two thoughts, before this particular thread winds down: First, we should perhaps remember that the particular venues within which we each and all
            Message 5 of 16 , Apr 6, 2003
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              Dear Friends:

              Two thoughts, before this particular thread winds down:

              First, we should perhaps remember that the particular venues within which we each and all do our work has their own limitations on what is considered properly "academic" and what is not. Those of you who are predominately associated with public and state colleges and universities will no doubt find that theological reflection is both an unnecessary and unwelcome intrusion into the sphere of academic historical study, even when that study is about something that many call religious. But there are others of us--myself included--who work with a different sort of venue, one in which a religious connection is part and parcel of both the identity and the mission of the academic institution itself. I teach at a church-related private college, and Prof. Allison teaches at a Presbyterian seminary. Thus, for us--and for some others on this list--the requirement for an absolute divide between history and theology is not just anachronistic, but usually considered to be nearly impossible, both to construct and then to maintain. What is also true, however, is all all such venues remain academic ones, worthy of all of our respect. The fact that there are different kinds of academic institutions must surely mean, among other things, that there is no one set of absolute rules that define academic inquiry.

              Second, with some of the respondents, I have to wonder if, in the case of any academic endeavor that focuses on an element of (someone's) religion, some form of theological perspective isn't more usual and more necessary than some others would like to allow? To apply this question to the topic of the historical Jesus: When we say that the transmission of the first followers of whatever we decide were the sayings and/or teachings of Jesus to new generations of potential or actual followers in some both affected and were affected by the sayings themselves--or whatever--ought we not come clean and state clearly that this form of transmission took place at all because THOSE FOLLOWERS BELIEVED IN WHAT JESUS WAS SAYING, however they ultimately came to transmit it? That, in other words, the transmission itself WAS AN ACT OF FAITH! I personally do not see how we can get around this, nor do I see how we can get around the fact that all the Christian sources we have--gospels, Paul, Thomas, etc.,--were in the end faith-documents. Now we do not necessarily have to share those beliefs in order to analyze them, but I don't see how we can get away with not acknowledging them for what they were. Indeed, to leave this element out is, I think, to skew the historical analysis itself almost from the beginning!

              Just some thoughts on a quiet Sunday afternoon.

              All the best,

              Robert Davis



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            • David C. Hindley
              ... To apply this question to the topic of the historical Jesus: When we say that the transmission, [by] the first followers of whatever we decide were the
              Message 6 of 16 , Apr 6, 2003
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                Robert Davis said:

                >>
                To apply this question to the topic of the historical Jesus: When we say
                that the transmission, [by] the first followers of whatever we decide were
                the sayings and/or teachings of Jesus, to new generations of potential or
                actual followers, [have] in some [sense] both affected and were affected by
                the sayings themselves--or whatever--ought we not [just] come clean and
                state clearly that this form of transmission took place at all because THOSE
                FOLLOWERS BELIEVED IN WHAT JESUS WAS SAYING, however they ultimately came to
                transmit it?<<

                I was not sure I understood you, and ended up editing your paragraph a bit
                to make it comprehensible to me. My apologies, in advance, if I have
                ultimately misunderstood you. Anyhow, I would be hesitant to use the phrase
                "believe," as the only thing we can say for sure is that the parties that
                transmitted Jesus tradition found value in it. That is not exactly the same
                as saying they "believed" in it, as that kind of phrase has all sorts of
                modern connotations that would not have been present in the Roman world of
                the 1st century CE.

                >>That, in other words, the transmission itself WAS AN ACT OF FAITH! I
                personally do not see how we can get around this, nor do I see how we can
                get around the fact that all the Christian sources we have--gospels, Paul,
                Thomas, etc.,--were in the end faith-documents.<<

                Whether they adopted Jesus tradition because of its usefulness for
                constructing a coherent world view, or because they "believed" it, it is
                really at heart a social-psychological process. People adopt the traditions
                under one set of circumstances, but over time new experiences cause them to
                slowly modify those traditions, and then they eventually impart a new form
                of it to others. personally, I think that *everyone* does that sort of thing
                all the time, including the communities that authors of our sources (yes,
                the NT) belonged to.

                At least Allison was up-front about his fear of letting his own confession
                of faith control his critical investigation, and I think he is fully aware
                that we are always interpreting the past from the perspective of the
                present. If we can graciously allow our sources to modify the Jesus
                tradition to adapt it to their own circumstances, we can certainly allow
                modern critics do the same.

                Respectfully,

                Dave Hindley
                Cleveland, Ohio, USA
              • Zeba Crook
                ... Thank you Robert. My problem with your very thoughtful response is this: perhaps you and Dale also have at your institutions professors of English, among
                Message 7 of 16 , Apr 6, 2003
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                  Davis, Robert C. wrote:

                  >First, we should perhaps remember that the particular venues within which we each and all do our work has their own limitations on what is considered properly "academic" and what is not. Those of you who are predominately associated with public and state colleges and universities will no doubt find that theological reflection is both an unnecessary and unwelcome intrusion into the sphere of academic historical study, even when that study is about something that many call religious. But there are others of us--myself included--who work with a different sort of venue, one in which a religious connection is part and parcel of both the identity and the mission of the academic institution itself. I teach at a church-related private college, and Prof. Allison teaches at a Presbyterian seminary. Thus, for us--and for some others on this list--the requirement for an absolute divide between history and theology is not just anachronistic, but usually considered to be nearly impossible, both to construct and then to maintain. What is also true, however, is all all such venues remain academic ones, worthy of all of our respect. The fact that there are different kinds of academic institutions must surely mean, among other things, that there is no one set of absolute rules that define academic inquiry.
                  >
                  Thank you Robert. My problem with your very thoughtful response is
                  this: perhaps you and Dale also have at your institutions professors of
                  English, among other subjects, and perhaps they are members of
                  Renaissance or other period list-servs. Do you think these people are
                  able to talk about their work and the issues, etc. etc. without personal
                  theological reflection, despite the fact that they are at church
                  affiliated institutions? I certainly hope they can. Is it possible to
                  talk about Renaissance writers and their beliefs in and about God
                  without personal theological reflection being relevant. Of course it
                  is. Or, imagine if this were a list devoted to the study of Satanic
                  Cults? In what way would it be pertinent to discuss one's personal
                  beliefs (in a certain cult or other religion altogether) or to offer
                  theological relfection in that setting?

                  The academic and the theological (in terms of approaches or motivations
                  to one's work) only appear inseparable I suspect because of the field
                  you (and others of course) work in. There is no reason why the study of
                  religion cannot operate as does the study of English literature, which
                  means that the two are inseparable for you only because you want them to
                  be united, not because there is any inherent need based on the subject
                  matter or on your institutional/church affiliation. It is also quite
                  possible for scholars to wear different hats, as it were -- confessional
                  and academic in the appropriate settings. I think it is quite
                  inappropriate for a pastor with academic training to lecture someone in
                  need of consoling. Which (inadvertently) brings up another point: if
                  it is possible to remove the academic from the theological [eg: when
                  someone wishes to be consoled by the words of Paul, one should not
                  correct them that the Pastorals are not Pauline]), how is it not
                  possible to remove the theological from the academic? My complaint
                  implied that just as it is possible in other fields, so is it here to
                  take a purely academic approach, and that this is what this list in
                  intended to offer.

                  And one more point of clarification: in the preceding, I use contrast
                  theological and academic not in the sense that the theological is
                  witless or unacademic, but rather, as my example (Eng. Lit.) I hope made
                  clear: academic being work that carried out with no theological or
                  pastoral or church or faith etc. grounding or motivation or interest . . .

                  Cheers,

                  Zeb
                  --

                  Zeba Antonin Crook (Ph.D. Cand)

                  University of St. Michael's College

                  Faculty of Theology

                  81 St. Mary Street

                  Toronto, Ontario, Canada

                  M5S 1J4



                  (416) 964-8629

                  http://individual.utoronto.ca/zeba_crook/




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                • Jim West
                  At 07:23 PM 4/6/03 -0400, you wrote: Years ago Rudolf Bultmann wrote an essay that would benefit lots of listers. Is Presuppositionless Exegesis Possible?
                  Message 8 of 16 , Apr 6, 2003
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                    At 07:23 PM 4/6/03 -0400, you wrote:

                    Years ago Rudolf Bultmann wrote an essay that would benefit lots of listers.
                    "Is Presuppositionless Exegesis Possible?" His answer- no. Even those
                    faculty of arts people mentioned in the present post operate with
                    presuppositions. When one studies the Bible or the Historical Jesus one
                    hauls along ones presuppositions. Among those presuppositions is a faith
                    stance or a non-faith stance. Its best if one at least holds open the
                    possibility that ones presuppositions are wrong- and hence not condemn as
                    ignorant, dishonest, or uninformed those whose presuppositions differ.

                    Some in "Religion" faculties behave as though they operate as pure
                    scientists; and look down at those who aren't as "scientific" as they
                    imagine themselves. This is, of course, rubbish. Their non-faith stance is
                    their (oftentimes) blinding and unacknowledged presupposition.

                    Best,

                    Jim

                    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

                    Jim West, ThD

                    Biblical Studies Resources
                    http://web.infoave.net/~jwest
                  • Mike Grondin
                    ... I think the reason why some folks might think that they have no presuppositions at all is that their presuppositions are of the sort that might best be
                    Message 9 of 16 , Apr 7, 2003
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                      --- Jim West wrote:
                      > Some in "Religion" faculties behave as though they operate as pure
                      > scientists; and look down at those who aren't as "scientific" as
                      > they imagine themselves. This is, of course, rubbish. Their non-
                      > faith stance is their (oftentimes) blinding and unacknowledged
                      > presupposition.

                      I think the reason why some folks might think that they have no
                      presuppositions at all is that their presuppositions are of the sort
                      that might best be called 'naturalistic'. These presuppositions are
                      are so seemingly ordinary and commonsensical when compared with some
                      of the extraordinary presuppositions of faith that they might seem
                      as nothing. But that is perhaps not to do justice to "faith", for
                      there are many varieties, and each has its set of presuppositions.
                      Nor is it even possible to contrast faith with naturalism without
                      someone arguing that even naturalists take some things on faith.
                      That's undeniable, of course, and so we're left with the certain
                      feeling that there's some significant difference, but we don't know
                      what it is exactly. This is where it's helpful to go to the
                      particular. Only at the level of the specific is it clear that not
                      all presuppositions are equal, as the theologian's argument would
                      have us believe.

                      Let's take the story of J's walking on water as a case in point.
                      One might entertain a number of presuppositions:

                      NP: It couldn't have happened, hence it didn't.
                      AP: Maybe it did, maybe it didn't; we just don't know.
                      XP: It could have happened, and it did.

                      'NP' stands for 'naturalistic presupposition', 'AP' for agnostic,
                      and 'XP' for Christian. There's also other possibilities - a
                      theistic but non-Xian presupposition might be that it could have
                      happened, only it didn't. Also, the specific wording is only
                      suggestive; it isn't intended to stack the deck, but if anyone feels
                      that it does so, alternative wordings are invited.

                      I take it from past commentaries that some listers prefer AP. In
                      fact, some would say that AP amounts to no presupposition at all,
                      since it keeps all options open. Openness to all possibilities is
                      assumed to be a virtue, and I think it is, properly understood.
                      But the principle needs qualification, which is rarely given. Is it
                      a virtue, for example, to be open to the "possibility" that the
                      Holocaust didn't happen, as some woebegotten folks maintain? Or to
                      be open to the "possibility" that Jesus was an alien? I think we
                      want to be open to what are called in ordinary language 'real
                      possibilities', not just anything at all. And so that would be my
                      first reason for preferring NP to AP - namely that walking on water
                      is not a "real possibility".

                      My second reason for preferring NP is that AP never resolves itself.
                      If it finds a textual precedent that seems to explain the inclusion
                      of the walking-on-water story, then the XP-proponent replies that
                      just because there's a textual precedent doesn't mean that it didn't
                      happen. And if no textual precedent is found, then what? If the AP
                      person asserts that, because of the character of the gospels, the
                      story was probably invented to demonstrate the divinity of Jesus,
                      doesn't this show that NP was really in mind all along, despite the
                      disclaimer?

                      One might also note that the presuppositions mentioned seem to each
                      have a different basis or justification. The difference between NP
                      and AP seems to be an assessment of our current state of scientific
                      knowledge - some AP folks at least claiming that there might be
                      scientific laws of which we're yet unaware. They would not, I
                      suspect, adopt this same attitude if the miracle stories weren't
                      _Christian_ miracle stories, but be that as it may, the XP
                      presupposition seems to fare rather poorly in comparison with either
                      of the others. What I have to wonder is what could possibly be the
                      basis for XP, other than that the Bible tells us so?

                      Mike Grondin
                      Mt. Clemens, MI
                    • Davis, Robert C.
                      Dear Dave: Nothing that you said in your reply to me obviates--or is obviated by--the original point, which was that the very process (by whatever name you
                      Message 10 of 16 , Apr 7, 2003
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                        Dear Dave:

                        Nothing that you said in your reply to me obviates--or is obviated by--the original point, which was that the very process (by whatever name you wish to employ) through which such a group elects to transmit such a tradition is, by definition, a theological one. It may well have social-psychological elements to it, but to deny the theological element is tantamount to saying that the transmitters themselves were merely reflexive (and perhaps manipulated) tools with no hint of reflection about what they were doing or why they were doing it. This seems to me to do far more violence to both the transmitters and to the process itself than is warranted.

                        To say that a process is theological does not automatically mean that it corresponds to a pre-formed set of doctrines. What it does say is that there were some sort of criteria--sometimes known and articulated, sometimes not--which were at the foundation of the process itself. Such criteria may well lead eventually to doctrine, but again this is not automatic. They might lead instead to modification (as you suggest) or to worship, or to something else entirely. The point is that they exist, and those who would do a complete job in analyzing such transmission processes have no choice, I think, but to investigate such criteria in themselves.

                        Let us also recall that the distinction between "theology" on the one hand and "academic inquiry" on the other is a relatively late one in the history of thought. And it has not even now been universally accepted. Raymond Brown, for example, who is frequently quoted by various members of this list, and also Marcus Borg, have often included theological reflection in their academic/scholarly work. So far as I know, they were none the worse for wear for doing so.

                        As you point out, it is a credit to Prof. Allison that he was up front with his own kind of theological reflection. I am merely suggesting that the rest of us should take this as an important lesson.

                        Respects,

                        Robert Davis



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                      • Bob Schacht
                        ... By which I take it that you mean naturalistic presuppositions are better ? This is almost exactly what is involved in ethnocentrism. *MY*
                        Message 11 of 16 , Apr 8, 2003
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                          At 02:07 PM 4/7/2003 +0000, Mike Grondin wrote:

                          >I think the reason why some folks might think that they have no
                          >presuppositions at all is that their presuppositions are of the sort
                          >that might best be called 'naturalistic'. These presuppositions are
                          >are so seemingly ordinary and commonsensical when compared with some
                          >of the extraordinary presuppositions of faith that they might seem as nothing.

                          By which I take it that you mean 'naturalistic' presuppositions are
                          "better"? This is almost exactly what is involved in ethnocentrism. *MY*
                          presuppositions are natural, and so ordinary and commonsensical that of
                          course they're true. *YOUR* presuppositions, however, are strange and
                          unnatural, and just totally weird.

                          Seriously, context is everything. From an ethnocentric point of view, i.e.,
                          from the viewpoint of one's own culture (or subculture), one's own
                          presuppositions seem obvious and, as you say, "natural". From the point of
                          view of most cultures of the world, the idea of separating the natural from
                          the supernatural, and denying the existence of the latter, is not only
                          strange and bizarre, but contrary to experience.

                          So when it comes right down to it, an appeal to this kind of "naturalism"
                          amounts to little but an appeal to ethnocentrism, if I understand
                          correctly, where the name of the subculture in question is Naturalism (see
                          any dictionary of philosophy). Now, Naturalism certainly has its uses;
                          science has sprung forth from it, and all that. But it is a particular
                          worldview, which has its limitations.

                          Bob

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                        • Stephen C. Carlson
                          ... I would say in the first century that presuppositions of supernatural activity (by God, gods, spirit, lares, daimons, etc.) was ordinary and commonsensical
                          Message 12 of 16 , Apr 8, 2003
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                            At 02:07 PM 4/7/2003 +0000, Mike Grondin wrote:
                            >I think the reason why some folks might think that they have no
                            >presuppositions at all is that their presuppositions are of the sort
                            >that might best be called 'naturalistic'. These presuppositions are
                            >are so seemingly ordinary and commonsensical when compared with some
                            >of the extraordinary presuppositions of faith that they might seem as nothing.

                            I would say in the first century that presuppositions of supernatural
                            activity (by God, gods, spirit, lares, daimons, etc.) was ordinary
                            and commonsensical while naturalistic presuppositions would have been
                            incomprehensible. It took science centuries of intense struggle to
                            get the naturalistic presuppositions we have today.

                            Stephen Carlson
                            --
                            Stephen C. Carlson mailto:scarlson@...
                            Synoptic Problem Home Page http://www.mindspring.com/~scarlson/synopt/
                            "Poetry speaks of aspirations, and songs chant the words." Shujing 2.35
                          • Mike Grondin
                            Bob, Thanks for your comments. You seem to have put your finger on a significant error in my reasoning, namely the apparent conflation of the words
                            Message 13 of 16 , Apr 9, 2003
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                              Bob,

                              Thanks for your comments. You seem to have put your finger on a
                              significant error in my reasoning, namely the apparent conflation
                              of the words 'naturalism' and 'natural'. Don't know as it counts as
                              ethnocentrism exactly, but I do seem to have been guilty of thinking
                              of naturalism as "natural" - which for most folks it evidently
                              isn't. A second error, perhaps not as obvious, was in thinking of
                              the presuppositions of science as a sort of minimal set shared by
                              everyone (with faith presuppositions regarded as add-ons above and
                              beyond that). Again, this seems not to be the case. Looks like I'll
                              have to go back to the drawing-board. <g>

                              Mike Grondin
                              Mt. Clemens, MI
                            • Davis, Robert C.
                              Zeb: To answer your specific question, the answer [about English teachers and the like] is, of course they can. And so too can I--provided we stay within your
                              Message 14 of 16 , Apr 9, 2003
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                                Zeb:

                                To answer your specific question, the answer [about English teachers and the like] is, of course they can. And so too can I--provided we stay within your particular definition of what it means to do "theological reflection."

                                Your very helpful posting enabled me to finally clarify to myself what evidently is being referred to when theological reflection is brought up here: that being "what it means to me in my life (or faith)." I don't want to speak for Clive on this, but for myself that particular definition of theological reflection is perhaps the most superficial of all the potential definitions, in that it really goes to an activity often called "faith witness." The problem is that faith witness itself may or may not be "theological" in its form and/or content. Too often, in fact, it is more a reflexive form of doctrinalizing which has little to do with true theological reflection at all.


                                So perhaps what we need to do is to redefine the term "theological reflection." For our purposes here, I would like to suggest that it be defined as the recognition that the materials currently under academic study were generated for a particular purpose, and aimed at eliciting some particular response from its audience. Both the purpose and the desired response had to do with the assumption (faith) that God was active in the events chronicled and articulated in the documents' reporting, and that the appropriate response on the part of the audience was one of belief that such assumptions were true. To put it another way, to reflect theologically on these documents (or the sources behind them) is to understand--and respect--the fact that their origin and transmission were not neutral, but that they were intended to convey something important about the way in which their authors believed the cosmos worked--and who the players really were!

                                Now, I certainly do not have to share in the same exact faith-stance in order to be able to recognize and even analyze the faith-claims of either author or audience. But what I must do is to understand the fact that they held to such claims as belief. Indeed, my own argument is that if we are not willing to do at least this, then I do not see how we can claim to have analyzed these documents as thoroughly as we say we have, since there will always be this one important element left out: why did the authors do all this in the first place?

                                [By the way, this author-audience intention-event is one which applies equally well to your examples of Shakespearean and Renaissance literature: here, there are as well reasons why particular authors wrote and artists painted or sculpted or composers composed. Those instructors who are tasked with teaching in these areas have, I think, a similar responsibility to make such intention-events clear to their own students, which, as you are aware in many of those cases, were themselves religious in nature. Again, those teachers do not have to have appropriated the same form of religious faith in order to be able to do this--but including such material in their teaching is necessary if comprehensive understanding is to be achieved.]

                                This much, let me suggest, any and all of us can do, regardless of our respective academic contexts. Where things get a bit more sticky is when we move to that level of theological reflection where the faith-claims of the original author-audience event is now said to be universal, and thus relevant for all generations. Here, a decision presents itself to the individual scholar: do I accept these original claims to be universal, and/or do I accept them to be relevant to me? And, if I do, then does my particular teaching context allow for the expression of those beliefs? For teachers in a public university venue, the answer is often no, legitimately so. But it may not be automatically the case, as my reference to one of my own teachers at the University of Arizona attempted to point out. For me, however, in the academic context within which I currently find myself, the situation is different. While the mission statement of Pikeville College affirms respect for the diversity of beliefs among our students and faculty, it also mandates ongoing conversation concerning the spiritual and ethical lives of those who come to study here. Given this, a larger level of explicit theological reflection in various classes is not only desired, but expected.

                                There are a couple of limitations, however. One is that respect for the diversity of religious (and other) beliefs among our campus community requires that whatever theological reflection any of us attempts to do is to be of the non-coercive variety--that is, it must be of the kind which does not proceed to proselytizing. Room must always be left for the individual student to make up her/her own mind on the subject at hand. The other limitation has to do with the prior decision of any particular potential instructor to actually come and work here. Those who believe, as most public university professors evidently do, that this second level of theological reflection is inappropriate will in all probability not want to come to a place like this. Those who do come, however, are apt to be those for whom this second level of reflection is thought not only to be a legitimate but also a necessary element of their own academic pursuit. The context itself, in other words, tends to act as a filter, in and of itself.

                                I don't know if this is helpful or not, but perhaps it will serve to clarify a couple of previous points.

                                Respects,

                                Robert Davis


                                [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
                              • Zeba Crook
                                Dear Robert, thanks for this tome! I have found the exchange very helpful. Cheers, Zeb ... -- Zeba Antonin Crook (Ph.D. Cand) University of St. Michael s
                                Message 15 of 16 , Apr 9, 2003
                                • 0 Attachment
                                  Dear Robert,

                                  thanks for this tome! I have found the exchange very helpful.

                                  Cheers,

                                  Zeb

                                  Davis, Robert C. wrote:

                                  >Zeb:
                                  >
                                  >To answer your specific question, the answer [about English teachers and the like] is, of course they can. And so too can I--provided we stay within your particular definition of what it means to do "theological reflection."
                                  >
                                  >Your very helpful posting enabled me to finally clarify to myself what evidently is being referred to when theological reflection is brought up here: that being "what it means to me in my life (or faith)." I don't want to speak for Clive on this, but for myself that particular definition of theological reflection is perhaps the most superficial of all the potential definitions, in that it really goes to an activity often called "faith witness." The problem is that faith witness itself may or may not be "theological" in its form and/or content. Too often, in fact, it is more a reflexive form of doctrinalizing which has little to do with true theological reflection at all.
                                  >
                                  >
                                  >So perhaps what we need to do is to redefine the term "theological reflection." For our purposes here, I would like to suggest that it be defined as the recognition that the materials currently under academic study were generated for a particular purpose, and aimed at eliciting some particular response from its audience. Both the purpose and the desired response had to do with the assumption (faith) that God was active in the events chronicled and articulated in the documents' reporting, and that the appropriate response on the part of the audience was one of belief that such assumptions were true. To put it another way, to reflect theologically on these documents (or the sources behind them) is to understand--and respect--the fact that their origin and transmission were not neutral, but that they were intended to convey something important about the way in which their authors believed the cosmos worked--and who the players really were!
                                  >
                                  >Now, I certainly do not have to share in the same exact faith-stance in order to be able to recognize and even analyze the faith-claims of either author or audience. But what I must do is to understand the fact that they held to such claims as belief. Indeed, my own argument is that if we are not willing to do at least this, then I do not see how we can claim to have analyzed these documents as thoroughly as we say we have, since there will always be this one important element left out: why did the authors do all this in the first place?
                                  >
                                  >[By the way, this author-audience intention-event is one which applies equally well to your examples of Shakespearean and Renaissance literature: here, there are as well reasons why particular authors wrote and artists painted or sculpted or composers composed. Those instructors who are tasked with teaching in these areas have, I think, a similar responsibility to make such intention-events clear to their own students, which, as you are aware in many of those cases, were themselves religious in nature. Again, those teachers do not have to have appropriated the same form of religious faith in order to be able to do this--but including such material in their teaching is necessary if comprehensive understanding is to be achieved.]
                                  >
                                  >This much, let me suggest, any and all of us can do, regardless of our respective academic contexts. Where things get a bit more sticky is when we move to that level of theological reflection where the faith-claims of the original author-audience event is now said to be universal, and thus relevant for all generations. Here, a decision presents itself to the individual scholar: do I accept these original claims to be universal, and/or do I accept them to be relevant to me? And, if I do, then does my particular teaching context allow for the expression of those beliefs? For teachers in a public university venue, the answer is often no, legitimately so. But it may not be automatically the case, as my reference to one of my own teachers at the University of Arizona attempted to point out. For me, however, in the academic context within which I currently find myself, the situation is different. While the mission statement of Pikeville College affirms respect for the diversity of beliefs among our students and faculty, it also mandates ongoing conversation concerning the spiritual and ethical lives of those who come to study here. Given this, a larger level of explicit theological reflection in various classes is not only desired, but expected.
                                  >
                                  >There are a couple of limitations, however. One is that respect for the diversity of religious (and other) beliefs among our campus community requires that whatever theological reflection any of us attempts to do is to be of the non-coercive variety--that is, it must be of the kind which does not proceed to proselytizing. Room must always be left for the individual student to make up her/her own mind on the subject at hand. The other limitation has to do with the prior decision of any particular potential instructor to actually come and work here. Those who believe, as most public university professors evidently do, that this second level of theological reflection is inappropriate will in all probability not want to come to a place like this. Those who do come, however, are apt to be those for whom this second level of reflection is thought not only to be a legitimate but also a necessary element of their own academic pursuit. The context itself, in other words, tends to act as a filter, in and of itself.
                                  >
                                  >I don't know if this is helpful or not, but perhaps it will serve to clarify a couple of previous points.
                                  >
                                  >Respects,
                                  >
                                  >Robert Davis
                                  >
                                  >
                                  --

                                  Zeba Antonin Crook (Ph.D. Cand)

                                  University of St. Michael's College

                                  Faculty of Theology

                                  81 St. Mary Street

                                  Toronto, Ontario, Canada

                                  M5S 1J4



                                  (416) 964-8629

                                  http://individual.utoronto.ca/zeba_crook/




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