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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Unpapal Conclave

Loren Rosson's unPapal conclave on the historical Jesus is now up and running with participants discussing the details on Chris Weimer's forum. Mark Goodacre has also provided a critique and Loren has responded. Mark writes:

One of the merits, as I see it, of Meier's idea is that it reminds us of the fundamental task of scholarship, a task that should not be about the attempt to persuade like-minded colleagues who share our own prejudices and presuppositions...but a rigorous and honest enterprise to engage with others who do not share our own prejudices and presuppositions, and so to have our own preconceived positions (and theirs) challenged. This is one of the reasons that I like to stress the importance of the public, democratic nature of scholarship. It is publicly available evidence and publicly coherent arguments...By publicly coherent arguments, I mean that the argument you make should be articulated in such a way that you are not primarily attempting to persuade those who share your own views. You are always paying special attention to those who do not share your own perspective. Scholarship should not be self-indulgent. It should not be used as an opportunity to proselytize. It should be self-effacing, paying attention to the dialogue partner's concerns and addressing them seriously.

I think that is right but one qualification needs to be added, namely that the intellectual make up of the discipline prevents this from happening at the moment. It is overwhelmingly and unsurprisingly of course Christian dominated and more and more questions could be raised with more and more perspectives. This is why the conclave is an honourable dream and could potentially throw up some interesting results. But in one sense it remains a dream because in reality NT scholarship just cannot function in the way hoped for if it remains a Christian dominated discipline or better a discipline where the overwhelming majority of his participants are Christian. As ever, the usual qualification: I am not attacking Christians in the discipline (if secularists were the majority I would advocate Christians in the discipline more and more) but rather the framing of the questions in the discipline that is inevitable when one group dominates (and that applies to any group).


Anonymous Christopher Shell said...

Hear, hear - though this is even more of a minefield than one might realise (but what the alternative would be, I don't know). For example:
-One has to begin by seeing 'Christian' and 'secular' as potentially equally viable options. This is not an infinitely extensible principle - e.g. in a debate on racism one would then have to see 'racist' and 'non-racist' as equally viable options to one another. Or in a debate on abortion, or the da Vinci Code, the antiabortionist or Code sceptic might think that even giving their opponents the time of day at all would lead those opponents to believe, wrongly, that they had a tenable, serious case.
-The opening terms define 'Christian' as towards one extremity and 'secular' as towards 'the' other extremity. This 'frames' the whole succeeding debate in preconceived terms, when it is precisely presuppositions that we are to be exposing to scrutiny.
-Who defines what the two main 'sides' are? (Headcount is normal - but Nazi Germany would have produced a high headcount for an untenable position.)
-Must there always be two 'sides' anyway? Isn't two the very worst number, given that it provides an unhelpful and inaccurate polarisation?
-Oughtn't really honest debate to begin with a large contingent in a third camp, the agnostic camp?
-Surely in a debate on presuppositions, the best contributions would not be made by people from rigidly defined camps (they would more likely make the worst contributions) but rather by those who could see things from different angles, and were relatively presuppositionless. I.e. truth seekers, which is precisely what many NT scholars already appear to me to be.

All that said, the proposal would mark a step forward in some ways.

May 18, 2006

Blogger James Crossley said...

Some interesting points there Christopher and you've nailed the problem with such an 'extreme' libertarian view (that I happily happen to hold!). I sort of accept the problems as a kind of necessary evil in the argument because otherwise logical possibilities, no matter how unfortunate, have to be ruled out even though they could be true.

I may even be tempted to place myself in the camp of what you call agnostic. I don't quite go as far as Jacques Berlinerblau on secular criticism (though I certainly don't think he is wrong to do so - just a question of interests really) and I don't really see myself necessarily in opposition to religious believers or wish to undermine religious approaches and faith. And I would happily endorse more and more and more different perspectives rather than two sides. Yes, the more the merrier!

I should add why I identify with secularists. I think the history of the discipline has shown certain perspectives have been excluded and this is because they are deemd too secular/dangerous (e.g. Marxism in the mid-C20). I also think that there are many people who are not willing to 'come out' as non-believers and who often feel obliged to write semi-pieties in their works (e.g. modern relevance). There is a problem there and bringing these perspectives in would not only help secret secularists but also bring new questions in. But ultimately, I would go along with what you say in that this does not and should not necessarily be polarised. It may be in the future and that may even be necessary.

That's a long way of saying I pretty much agree!

May 18, 2006

Anonymous Christopher Shell said...

Yes - and I also think that our very terminology provides some classic examples of the very presuppostitions we are trying to avoid. For example:
(a) 'Religious' - Help! I have been a christian for years and I still havent worked out what this word means. Paul Edwards's encyclopaedia of philosophy earmarks it as a classic example of a vague word. I think it is a self-contradictory word since it tries to reduce huge cosmic matters to a pigeon-holing level.
(b) 'secular': Essentially a dualist word? And making dualist presuppositions is inadmissible.
(c) 'Christian' - one has to distinguish between ideologically Christian and disintersted truth seekers who find themselves ending up with Christian-type conclusions.

...looks like the whole project is trickier than any of us thought...!!

May 19, 2006

Blogger Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks for these useful comments, James (and Christopher). I have commented further at the bottom of my original post.

May 19, 2006

Anonymous Christopher Shell said...

Thanks - of course I am being deeply nit-picking and unfair; but the essential point I want to bring across is that ten truth-seekers of the kind already found in NT studies will probably do a better job than one Christian, one Jew, one secular humanist, one Muslim, one agnostic, one atheist, one Englishman, one Scotsman, one Irishman, one Mexican IF this motley crew are merely presupposition-ridden ideologues. In fact, the fact that they are speaking to each other in the first place tends to indicate that they are not.
The truth will not be found in a lowest common denominator, but it is a good exercise to see how much, and what in particular, such diverse people can agree on. In addition, new dimensions and horizons of truth will be opened up.

May 22, 2006


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