Sunday, 13 September 2015
Identity and the Politics of Scholarship in the Study of Religion,
ed. José Ignacio Cabezón & Sheila Greeve Davaney, Routledge, 2004,
Chapter 1 "Between Identity and Footnotes" (pp. 25-41), page 30
Sheila Davaney, now a Program Officer for religion at the Ford Foundation, and previously the Harvey H. Potthoff Professor of Christian Theology at Iliff School of Theology, starts the first chapter with a discussion of the history of scholarship and some of its current challenges. Along with many assertions about oppression and value distortion resulting from imperialism, colonialism and capitalism, not to mention patriarchal and heterosexist power, have come "far reaching claims about the nature of knowing itself and in particular about the relation of the identity of the knower to what is known."
Notions of singular truth expressed in transparent relation between unsituated knowers and a given world have been replaced with assertions of knowledge as constructed, as the product of imagination and power, and as dependent upon the contextualised theories, perspectives, identities and experiences brought to any situation.
Am I alone in being disturbed by this assertion? It is certainly true that the perspective (including identity) of any particular researcher or commentator may bring a flavour or interpretation to past events or literature. But on the other hand, history - particularly more recent history where documentary and physical evidence is available - clearly exists in fact: Queen Victoria became the Queen of England in 1837, Charles II returned to England as king in 1660, there was a great fire in London in 1666. Certainly the meaning and significance of these events may be viewed and interpreted from a numbor of different viewpoints, but the basic facts and just that: facts. To use Davaney's words: they are singular truth from a given world.
How far can we go along the road of identifying interpretation - correctly, IMHO - from fact, without devaluing fact to the point where everything becomes relative and interpretation? Surely, we need to draw the line somewhere.