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Re: [XTalk] A new look at methodology?

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  • Stephen C. Carlson
    ... That s pretty thought-provoking, Bob, but I think that the fundamental difference between the kind of anthropology I am understanding you to be describing
    Message 1 of 3 , Jul 1, 2004
      At 03:31 PM 7/1/2004 -0700, Bob Schacht wrote:
      >Things have been quiet here on XTalk for a while, and I've read some things
      >that relate to some old threads, so maybe its time to revisit some of those
      >issues.

      ...

      >Translated to our tasks on this list, the first approach, although
      >preferred by some here, results in relatively shallow or incomplete
      >understanding, IMHO. The third stance, with regard to one's persona on the
      >list, is also discouraged in that faith statements are not accepted as
      >persuasive. For our purposes, the best advantage is the second: to become
      >participant observers. This means, to me, becoming sufficiently involved
      >with Christianity to understand it from the inside, even if one declines to
      >make any faith commitments in that regard.

      ...

      >But my purpose in raising this issue is not to arrive merely at the same
      >old destination, but rather to inquire again about the possibilities of a
      >relational epistemology that encompasses not only our individual responses
      >to this question, but also to how we can discuss those responses with each
      >other in a way that actually communicates rather than excommunicates, to
      >coin a phrase <g>. I see this relational epistemology as one of engagement,
      >rather than disengagement in the name of "objectivity," even though my
      >normal personality pattern often feels more comfortable with disengagement
      >and objectivism.

      That's pretty thought-provoking, Bob, but I think that the fundamental
      difference between the kind of anthropology I am understanding you to
      be describing and the historical-critical study of early Christianity is
      that there is no first-century Christian group in which any one of us
      can become a "participant observer" in. There are only twenty-first
      century Christian groups. Some of them may more closely approximate
      various aspects of early Christian groups than others in some respects,
      but all of them are at some remove from the social reality of the early
      Christian experience(s).

      Yes, of course, there are some commonalities between current Christian
      groups and those of the past, but there are also some differences, too.
      The whole question of the historical-critical enterprise is sorting out
      those differences and similarities. There is always a risk, no matter
      who we are of assuming that what is true for us, particularly in
      ontologically subjective things like social arrangements, is also true
      for people in the past in the same way. No one is really immune, whether
      they are religious (e.g. Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, etc.) or unreligious.
      I suspect that atheist scholars less apt to understand religious motivations
      of people and concentrate more on political, social, and economic factors,
      while religious scholars are more in danger of reading their own personal
      religious experiences into those of the past. Since no single one of us
      is fully able to bracket out our preconceptions and prejudices (though
      some, I'm sure, are better than others), scholarship can only benefit
      from a diverse mix of people from various backgrounds and perspectives,
      each describing their part of the elephant as best they can. Don't get
      me wrong--I'm not saying that everyone is equally situated with respect
      to the object of study, but in order to satisfy me that your or mine
      experience or non-experience with Christianity or any other faith is
      sufficiently commensurate with that of the early Christians, you would
      pretty much have to do a historical critical analysis and we're back
      to where we started from. I don't know we can short cut that process.

      Stephen Carlson

      P.S. I'm not sure I like the term "objectivist" -- it sounds too much like
      Ayn Rand's philosophy, which does not appear in view here.
      --
      Stephen C. Carlson mailto:scarlson@...
      Weblog: http://www.mindspring.com/~scarlson/hypotyposeis/blogger.html
      "Poetry speaks of aspirations, and songs chant the words." Shujing 2.35
    • Bob Schacht
      ... I agree, that we must be cautious about anything resembling anachronism. But we do have some tools here. We do have some contemporary or near-contemporary
      Message 2 of 3 , Jul 2, 2004
        At 11:29 PM 7/1/2004 -0400, Stephen C. Carlson wrote:

        >That's pretty thought-provoking, Bob, but I think that the fundamental
        >difference between the kind of anthropology I am understanding you to
        >be describing and the historical-critical study of early Christianity is
        >that there is no first-century Christian group in which any one of us
        >can become a "participant observer" in. There are only twenty-first
        >century Christian groups. Some of them may more closely approximate
        >various aspects of early Christian groups than others in some respects,
        >but all of them are at some remove from the social reality of the early
        >Christian experience(s).

        I agree, that we must be cautious about anything resembling anachronism.
        But we do have some tools here. We do have some contemporary or
        near-contemporary documents that describe, to some extent, what these first
        century Christians were thinking.

        >Yes, of course, there are some commonalities between current Christian
        >groups and those of the past, but there are also some differences, too.
        >The whole question of the historical-critical enterprise is sorting out
        >those differences and similarities.

        Agreed.

        > There is always a risk, no matter
        >who we are of assuming that what is true for us, particularly in
        >ontologically subjective things like social arrangements, is also true
        >for people in the past in the same way. No one is really immune, whether
        >they are religious (e.g. Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, etc.) or unreligious.
        >I suspect that atheist scholars less apt to understand religious motivations
        >of people and concentrate more on political, social, and economic factors,
        >while religious scholars are more in danger of reading their own personal
        >religious experiences into those of the past.

        That, surely, is the normal tendency.

        > Since no single one of us
        >is fully able to bracket out our preconceptions and prejudices (though
        >some, I'm sure, are better than others), scholarship can only benefit
        >from a diverse mix of people from various backgrounds and perspectives,
        >each describing their part of the elephant as best they can.

        Agreed. To put that old fable to more use, we can see (as you imply) that
        they can only get a good picture of the elephant by *accepting* each
        other's testimony as having some value, rather than by calling each other
        names, and telling each other how wrong they are.

        > Don't get
        >me wrong--I'm not saying that everyone is equally situated with respect
        >to the object of study, but in order to satisfy me that your or mine
        >experience or non-experience with Christianity or any other faith is
        >sufficiently commensurate with that of the early Christians, you would
        >pretty much have to do a historical critical analysis and we're back
        >to where we started from. I don't know we can short cut that process.

        Well, I didn't mean to suggest that we could "do" participant observation
        in the First Century. I was simply pointing out that participant
        observation involves an intermediate level of engagement between extreme
        detachment and total commitment. The way we do this with respect to the
        historical Jesus is to be able to enter into the world of the text as much
        as possible.

        To do so, we need a methodology and a way of discussion that does not
        banish the world of the Spirit from consideration. It is something of
        importance to Paul and virtually all others, so we can't really enter into
        their world without learning to understand how *they* understood it. The
        best we have been able to do so far is to accept testimony that "J. was
        reported to receive the Holy Spirit", without requiring that every scholar
        believe that the holy spirit exists. We need to be able to do more. For
        example, we might be able to triangulate by starting with what the
        contemporary writers are reporting, and what anthropologists and others are
        reporting about various kinds of spirit possession in various
        circumstances. What makes this different from anachronism is that the
        ancient sources provide a check on the modern sources. We also ought to be
        able to use ancient sources, e.g. on Dionysian rites, etc.

        Second, we need to pay more attention to *relationships*. Again, we don't
        need to rely on modern sources to do this. Of course, we have to try to
        differentiate between historical relationships, and relationships that are
        merely narrative devices created by the authors. But I don't think that
        enough attention has been paid to this subject. Again, we need to do this
        by trying to enter into the world of the texts. Some notes:
        * All sources agree that Jesus had companions (disciples). It even
        appears that he called them into relationship ("Follow me"-- e.g., Mark
        1:17, 2:14, 8:34, 10:21). He just didn't wander around on his own.
        * Paul usually traveled with companions. Like Jesus, his companions
        were friends, not random clumps of strangers.
        * Although they were not necessarily traveling companions, women were
        often included in gatherings by both Jesus (e.g. several Marys, Martha,
        Samaritan woman, Syro-Phoenician woman) and Paul (e.g., Priscilla, Aquila,
        Phoebe). They were important parts of their ministries. Karen King proposes
        that Mary Magdalene was a disciple; Paul described Phoebe as diakonos of
        the church at Cenchreae.
        * We have the tradition in Luke, at least, that Jesus' companions were
        sent out to spread the good news not as solitary evangelicals, but in pairs.
        * Jesus seems to have promoted distinctive relational attitudes and
        behaviors such as forgiveness, and love. In fact, love (agape) was to be
        virtually the trademark of his followers (John 13:35), who were expected to
        love not only friends, but enemies (Matt 5:44//Luke)-- which even the Jesus
        Seminar recognized as probably historical.
        I think focusing on these relational attitudes helps us to enter into the
        world of these texts.

        Bob
        Robert M. Schacht, Ph.D.
        Northern Arizona University
        Flagstaff, AZ

        [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
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