I should be writing my religion paper, but I've been thinking about this all day, and I'll try to make it fast. Also, this blog is in serious need of new material (ahem...Jacob) so I feel obligated to contribute something every now and then.
Today in my History of the Enlightenment class we were discussing the writing of history. My professor made the point that when historians have a particular agenda in their writing of history, they end up skewing the facts and giving us an inaccurate view of history. He distinguished this from merely having a point of view or thesis. One always has a thesis when writing history. One ought, he claimed, to avoid having an agenda while writing history.
I think I differ fundamentally with this understanding of historiography. (I should preface these thoughts by saying that they're heavily influenced by the first few chapters of N.T Wright's New Testament and the People of God
.) All historians have an agenda. "Agenda" is really just a pejorative term for "point of view." Since all historians are writing from a particular worldview, all historians have a particular, subjective point of view. History, then, is presenting a story about the past from your point of view and using the available information to support your story. If your story of the past can make more sense of the available information than the next guy's story, others are more likely accept your story. All of our stories have an agenda or a point to them. Even the professor who's goal is to simply publish "objective" history accepts the agenda of Enlightenment rationalism which places confidence in man's ability to remove himself from his own subjectivity and disinterestedly observe history. (Perhaps he is the most endangered by his agenda because he fails to recognize that he has one.) In short, it's impossible to step out of one's worldview to write "objective" history.
What makes one person's explanation of history better than another isn't that one is more "objective" than another. Rather, it is that one story presents a more coherent picture of historical experience than another. As a Christian historian, I'm convinced that history told from a Christian perspective presents the most coherent view of our historical experience. If someone wants to challenge this, they in turn present an alternative story, and this story then interacts with/challenges mine. If it can point out incoherences in my story, then I'll be forced to reevaluate or modify my story.
That's all I can do now, although there's plenty more I could work out if anyone wishes to discuss it.
Labels: Philosophy, Theology