“Reading Other Peoples’ Scriptures Requires Sympathy, Not Just Facts”

 

Take the Qur’an, for example

 

This weekend’s column for the Deseret News by William Hamblin and . . . well, some other guy:

 

http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865578593/Reading-other-peoples-scriptures-requires-sympathy-not-just-facts.html

 

 

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  • JamesJ

    This is a concise and useful summation of ideas presented in John Gee’s ‘Whither Mormon Studies’ (http://bit.ly/YOXgT1), and points made by Prof. Hamblin in a recent FB discussion on this very topic (http://bit.ly/13pBh8P).

    While studying other faith’s scriptures as literature may have some appeal to certain scholars, it seems to me (as the article demonstrates) that the approach would be of little use to the layman.

    I want to know (for example) how the Quran informs the believer so I can better *understand the believer*. This appears far & away a more valuable and useful approach (to religious studies overall, in my humble (non-scolarly) opinion.

    I don’t think the importance of this approach can be overstated—at least as far as it will actually be of benefit to those of us living outside the academic world. And with that, I guess my bias is revealed.

  • RG

    I agree with your general sentiment:

    Reading another religion’s scripture requires not so much a leap of faith as a leap of intellect. If, after reading a book of scripture, you conclude, “I can’t understand why anyone would believe this book,” you’ve failed to understand the book. If, however, you can truthfully say, “I may not believe this book is scripture, but I understand why others do,” you’ve taken a major step toward understanding it.

    I find much of your piece, though, based on simplistic dichotomies.

    Personally, we would much rather take a class or read a book on the Bhagavad-Gita as Hindu scripture from an informed, believing Hindu than from someone who tells us all the reasons the Gita should be viewed as a late literary addition to the Mahabharata, or why it isn’t really a revelation of Krishna to Arjuna. Likewise, we think non-Mormons should prefer to understand why Mormons believe the Book of Mormon is scripture, rather than why non-Mormons believe it isn’t.

    Secular approaches to religion necessarily remove the passion from scripture.

    The academic study of religion isn’t necessarily about debunking religion. It’s inaccurate to portray it as such.

    • danpeterson

      I fully agree that the academic study of religion isn’t necessarily about debunking religion and that it would be inaccurate to portray it as such.

  • RG

    Then I really wish your piece didn’t come across as suggesting such.

    • danpeterson

      I wish you didn’t think it did.

  • RG

    Perhaps you can explain the two paragraphs I quote in order to clarify?

    • danpeterson

      I’m really busy preparing for a trip overseas that begins tomorrow.

      Perhaps you can explain why you think your two quotations say what you think they say, because I don’t see it.

      If I have time, I’ll likely respond.

  • RG

    Here’s what I think those two paragraphs say:
    I take “secular approaches” to mean the academic study of religion (or Religious Studies). The academic study of religion cannot but “remove the passion from scripture,” which I take to mean refrain from providing accounts of the sacred nature of the text. It replaces these explanations with sociological or psychological explanations of religion (“it isn’t really a revelation of Krishna to Arjuna” and “why non-Mormons believe it isn’t [scripture]“).

    Perhaps the line is better said as “Secular approaches to religion tend to remove the passion from scripture”?
    Even if this is what you (and Hamblin) meant to say, much of the article is predicated on a kind of strawman caricature of the academic study of religion.

    And please take your time to respond. I understand that you’re busy. Have a good trip.

    • danpeterson

      “I take ‘secular approaches’ to mean the academic study of religion (or Religious Studies).”

      That’s pretty much true — although theology is also, in many schools and traditions, a field of academic study.

      “The academic study of religion cannot but ‘remove the passion from scripture,’ which I take to mean refrain from providing accounts of the sacred nature of the text.”

      No, I think that even secular academic study can and routinely does provide accounts about the sacred nature of scriptural texts.

      “It replaces these explanations with sociological or psychological explanations of religion.”

      It very often does precisely that.

      “(‘it isn’t really a revelation of Krishna to Arjuna’ and ‘why non-Mormons believe it isn’t [scripture]‘).”

      I would see such statements as those directly above as much more adversarial and debunking, certainly much more overtly so, than religious studies typically are.

      “Perhaps the line is better said as ‘Secular approaches to religion tend to remove the passion from scripture’?
      Even if this is what you (and Hamblin) meant to say, much of the article is predicated on a kind of strawman caricature of the academic study of religion.”

      I would judge that one of the indispensable aspects of a secular (and “objective”) approach to religion would surely be its dispassionate character.

      I think your best bet, though, would be to discuss your perceptions with Professor Hamblin, not merely because I’m headed out of the country but because he was this particular article’s principal author.

      “And please take your time to respond. I understand that you’re busy. Have a good trip.”

      Thanks.


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