Sunday, December 4, 2011

"intellectual historians must use [period] dictionaries"

"After praising Skinner, I must confess here my own early naïvetéit took me a good decade to recognize that, in my own field, many practitioners of intellectual history are just dogmaticians in disguise; perhaps half a decade more to realize that the phrase 'Barthian historiography' is an oxymoron; and several more years beyond that to come to grips with the datum that systematic theologians, taken as a group, do not read historical documents and, when they go so far as to cite historical documents, often evidence a deep aversion to the meaning intended by the original authors."

     Richard A. Muller, "Reflections on persistent Whiggism and its antidotes in the study of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century intellectual history," in Seeing things their way:  intellectual history and the return of religion, ed. Alister Chapman, John Coffey, and Brad S. Gregory (Notre Dame, IN:  University of Notre Dame Press, 2009), 137 (134-153).  "the writings of a Luther, Calvin, Montaigne, or Descartes do not provide the context for the interpretation of the writings of Luther, Calvin, Montaigne, or Descartes" (140).  "intellectual historians must use sixteenth- and seventeenth-century dictionaries" (138).  One of the things Whiggism does is ignore "the 'minor' or 'lesser' thinkers of an era" and examine "only the thought of a major writer to the exclusion of the persons and events that surrounded him" (140).  To stop doing this would be to come to grips with "the lack of originality of sixteenth-century writers [on grace] like Calvin" (142-143).  This Muller calls "the 'great thinker' problem" (139).

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