How to Write Religious History

According to Peggy Fletcher Stack writing on the SLTrib blog “Following Faith” on 22 Jul 2011:

. . . most historians routinely begin with skepticism about truth claims of historical actors and writers, says Stuart Parker, a postdoctoral fellow with the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.  “And the study of religious history, like most academic work taking place today seems to fall clearly into the suspicious camp.”

But (Mormon historian Richard) Bushman–as a leading academic authority on Colonial America and Early Republic as well as writing the premier biography of Mormon founder Joseph Smith (Rough Stone Rolling)–seems to have found a “(different) way,” Parker says.

Whether writing about Mormon or American history, Bushman begins with a kind of generousity, in which he presumes that people do tell the truth about their experience, unless evidence proves them wrong.

“He holds historical actors to the same citical standards,” Parker says, “but he confers on their self-explanation and self-description a kind of right of first refusal.”

In other words, innocent until proven guilty.

Such an approach “allows us to discover and to know things that we would not otherwise know,” Parker says.  “And it does so not by blunting our critical or analytical instincts but by directing them more precisely when it comes to where to look first and what to test first.”

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3 Responses to How to Write Religious History

  1. Hi, Religious history is written when you yourself are capable of intuition and not by copying the views of others.

  2. susan says:

    What kind of religious history exists without the “views of others”? Of course we are all capable of our own intuition, and Dr. Hansen utilizes that in all of his blogs. Your response in and of itself, Nijjhar, is my reading a “view of another”.

  3. History isn’t about personal subjective beleifs or wishful thinking or con-artist claims.

    While each of us is the expert of our own experience, we are too often blinded by our prejudices, perferences and agendas to be reliable as interpretors of those experiences.

    and, when claims are foolish or false on the face of them, they can and should be dismissed and any extraordinary claim should not be accepted without extraordinary evidence – well beyond the claimant’s word

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