Scholarship as Meritocracy

Larry Hurtado reflects on ill-supported views that sometimes get bandied about, not least on the Internet. In contrast, Hurtado comments:

In the world of scholarship, your opinion gets as much respect and attention as it deserves, based on your having demonstrated your knowledge of the data and ability to analyze and construct cogent inferences and interpretations–“demonstrated” in the judgment of other scholars competent to judge.  Scholarship isn’t a townhall meeting.  It’s a meritocracy in which opinions suffer informed critique, and those views that get accepted are the ones that are seen to be worthwhile by those competent to judge, who have themselves had to develop and demonstrate the “goods.”

Whether scholarship “is” or “should be” a meritocracy could perhaps be discussed, as well as what meritocracy might practically entail. But, even if and when scholarship falls short of meritocratic interaction, it would still seem beneficial to act as though it is a meritocracy and to remember that no one scholar has the ability to define where scholarship finds merit.

That is, if one’s views do not find a careful hearing, there remains work to be done to demonstrate why that hearing should be given. To play up the instances in which scholarship falls short of even-handed interaction with various positions would appear to allow space for an academic “victim mentality” to set in (Woe is me! Why are my arguments not heard?). George Ladd is perhaps a good example of what can happen as a result of one or the other view taking hold (though with excesses even on the better side; see John D’Elia, A Place at the Table).

In another light, to call scholarship, or the academy, a “meritocracy” highlights its status (although under another name) as a marketplace for ideas. Even in capitalist markets, some goods may be over- or under-valued, but the responsibility for showing the value of those goods still lies with the merchants, even when the market environment might be less than fully favorable toward them.

For the balance of Hurtado’s reflections, see his original blog post.

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