Regular posting should be resuming shortly…

In the meantime, I’ve been reflecting once again on the perennial issue of generalists and interdisciplinarians: core materials and canons. Each semester when I teach preaching I hammer in the fact that everyone has a theology–whether they know it or not. Everyone from The Archbishop of Canterbury to the Dalai Lama to Richard Dawkins to the average person sitting in the pew has a theology. The issue is whether it is explicit. The biggest problem for preachers and clergy is whether it is coherent, consistent (within reason) and communicable. That is, if a preacher isn’t aware of what she believes, she may find herself unconsciously preaching contradictory concepts–sometimes in the same sermon! (Yes, I’ve witnessed this more than once…)

I’m coming to believe that the same is true of most academics; we all have canons out of which we research, and teach, and generate our central concepts–the question is the degree to which these are explicit. People who reside in a single field may be able to get away with leaving it implicit. After all, most fields have implicit canons. Or–to be precise–most Ph.D. granting institutions form their students around implicit canons which are then replicated, challenged, merged, whatever as the students spread out through academia in various ways. For generalists and interdisciplinarians, however, I think it’s a much more complicated picture.

The simple fact is that it’s virtually impossible these days to stay up-to-date in “New Testament”. Most of the folks I know, do well to stay up-to-date in their specialties. How, then, to keep tabs on several fields, each of which churn out large amounts of scholarly material each year? …And I’m wondering out loud here. Not only am I not claiming to have solved this problem, I’m just now trying to address it in a coherent fashion going forward.

I think one answer is to be restrictive. Yes, that answer flies in the face of my tendencies to diversify but–that tendency is part of the problem, isn’t it? As a result, I’m trying to construct for myself a canon by means of which I can root myself in the midst of my fields, establish a solid scholarly self-identity and have a prayer of a chance to stay up-to-date on work in my fields going forward.

Right now, I’m conceiving of my prospective canon as a set of concentric circles aligned around the idea of primary sources. I’m a literary guy; I went into New Testament as opposed to one of several other fields because I chose to be trained as an exegete. As a result, this whole concept is very textually-based (I recognize that as a possible danger, but honestly it doesn’t worry me very much…). So here are my thoughts:

The Inner Circle. This consists of my most basic and most important primary sources. These are the ones that I ought to know inside and out; these are the ones I should be able to quote from memory without difficulty; these are the ones that I should be engaging equally well in Modern English and their primary languages. (I say “primary” because the “original” is not always the most important or influential. For instance, my primary languages for the Psalter are Greek and Latin, not Hebrew…)

I’m thinking a corollary inner circle might identify some core secondary sources and journals that directly pertain to the inner core.

The Middle Circle. This group reflects works that I should know fairly well–the texts that I can comfortably speak to off the top of my head. It certainly wouldn’t hurt to have contact with these in the primary languages, but that’s not necessarily essential. It be good to have a sense of the secondary literature here, but not feel the need to be obsessive.

The Outer Circle. This group reflects works that I really should have at least a passing acquaintance with. Know that they’re important, know where to go for resources on them, but not to feel like a failure or fraud if I don’t know them inside and out…

Alright–with those categories in place, here are the primary texts that I’m considering for my first two categories:

Inner Circle

  • The New Testament (with a special focus on the Gospels)
  • The Psalter
  • The Rule of Benedict
  • Gregory the Great
    • the XL Gospel Homilies
    • Pastoral Care
  • Augustine
    • On Christian Doctrine
    • On the Instruction of the Uneducated
    • Gospel Homilies
    • On the Sermon on the Mount
  • Bede
    • Homilies on the Gospels
  • The Mass as represented in the mixed Gelasian tradition
  • The Office as represented in the Hyde Abbey tradition (?)
  • Ælfric
    • The Catholic Homilies
    • The other homilies
    • Letter to Sigeweard
    • Letter to the Monks of Eynsham

Middle Circle (by category)

  • Biblical:
    • The Old Testament (aside from the psalter, clearly)
    • New Testament Apocrypha
    • Old Testament Apocrypha
    • Qumran Literature
  • Monastic
    • John Cassian
    • Lives of the Fathers
    • Sayings of the Fathers
    • Rule of the Master
    • Smaragdus
      • Commentary on the Rule
      • Diadem of Monks
    • Regularis Concordia
  • Patristic/Homiletical
    • The Rest of Gregory
    • The Rest of Bede
    • Augustine
      • Tractates on John
      • On the Harmony of the Gospels
      • Tractates on First John
      • Homilies on the Psalms
    • Homilies of Caesarius of Arles
    • Cassiodorus on the Psalms
  • Medieval
    • The Rest of Ælfric
    • The anonymous OE homilies
    • the Vercelli Book(poetry as well as homilies)
  • Theory
    • The Progymnasmata
    • Isidore
    • Cicero

Hmmm… I look at these lists and they seem simultaneously massive and too restricted.

What are your thoughts?


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