Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Types of Scholarship

I had this thought last week.

1. On a popular level in the US, there is a good deal of skepticism toward scholarship. I suspect there are a number of reasons. Some of it seems ridiculous. Some of it seems threatening. Some of it seems irrelevant. Some of it seems incomprehensible.

2. As a card carrying "scholar," I would say that a good deal of scholarship probably is bunk, especially in an age where it is easier than ever to get letters after your name. At the Society of Biblical Literature, how many of the papers are worth much? 15%? I don't know.

I personally think my own guild, the guild of biblical studies, is in an "ahistorical" phase, like it was back in the days of Bultmann and Barth. Since history isn't going anywhere, I know this will eventually turn around and smack this generation of scholars in the face. That might be after I'm retired. I could do it, but "not everything is beneficial."

3. I think some scholarship is more or less poetic. A scholar has come up with an intellectually, elegant way of saying something that, really, has more or less already been said. To be sure, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and most people are not likely to find much erudition of this sort very interesting or relevant. And maybe it isn't. Maybe it is just truth for truth's sake.

Worthy, because all truth is God's truth. But not a priority. A luxury.

4.  Some scholarship truly advances the discussion in a particular area. This is the stuff I like. What percentage of scholarship falls in this category? 5%? I don't know.

This kind of scholarship is riding the wave of the current tide. This is why discoveries like calculus can suddenly appear in two places at about the same time and neither Newton nor Leibniz be plagiarizing.

5. A good deal of scholarship is relevant to ordinary life, but it may need what Halee Scott once called "stair runners." By this phrase she meant good teachers who could understand high level scholarship but who could bring it down the stairs to communicate it in a relevant and intelligible form.

Some thoughts...

1 comment:

Alethinon61 said...

I think one reason that people are skeptical of scholarship is that scholars so often wear their vested interests on their sleeves, and they are unsuccessful at hiding the extent to which they allow those vested interests to shape their conclusions.