Bartholomew on “What the World Needs from Christian Academics”

Faithlife Today has posted a clip that mostly contains an interview with Craig Bartholomew about “what the world needs from Christian academics.” The post is dated 11 October 2017, but interview seems to have been recorded some time ago, before Bartholomew’s move to the Kirby Lang Institute and seemingly also before the publication of his introduction to hermeneutics. Even so, the content of the interview remains quite a poignant challenge.

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.

Questions as the Core of Scholarship

Photograph of H. G. GadamerIn his essay on “The Universality of the Hermeneutical Problem,” H.-G. Gadamer reflects,

It is imagination … that is the decisive function of the scholar. Imagination naturally has a hermeneutical function and serves the sense for what is questionable. It serves the ability to expose real, productive questions, something in which, generally speaking, only he who masters all the methods of his science achieves.

As a student of Plato, I particularly love scenes in which Socrates gets into a dispute with the Sophist virtuosi and drives them to despair by his questions. Eventually they can endure his questions no longer and claim for themselves the apparently preferable role of the questioner. And what happens? They can think of nothing at all to ask. Nothing at all occurs to them that is worth while going into and trying to answer.

I draw the following inference from this observation. The real power of hermeneutical consciousness is our ability to see what is questionable. (Philosophical Hermeneutics, 12–13).

Without the ability to “see what is questionable,” there is also little chance of breaking “the spell of our own fore-meanings” (Gadamer, Truth and Method, 281), or the assumptions about the reality we encounter that, at first brush, seem as naturally indubitable as anything could be.

For other reflections by and on Gadamer, see also previous posts on his thought.