Hans Hillerbrand on the church historian’s task
“We [church historians] [should] not hesitate to argue vigorously that the avenue through which to understand Western culture is its Christian history. We have been all too timid, I believe, about this. […] We tend to overlook the effects of Christianity on the political, social, economic, and intellectual dimensions of society. As long as we only see it the other way around, that is, as long as we are overwhelmed by how politics, economics, class, gender have impacted Christianity, we have yielded our place and have made ourselves superfluous. Our colleagues in economics, political science, or sociology can do this kind of analysis much better. Some of us might even suggest that historians of Christianity would be better off as members of such departments, since we have neither a distinctive subject matter nor a distinctive methodology. Of course, much of what is done in religion departments could well be done elsewhere in a college and a university. But the issue is not, so it seems to me, the structural alignment of the study of the history of Christianity, but the dictum of its intrinsic, indeed pivotal importance in Western culture. Surely, after we have acknowledged the reality of other factors, non-Christian, non-theological in Western (and since the eighteenth century also global) history, the fundamental importance of Christian history remains. Michael Walzer may well have overstated the case for the Puritan origins of liberal democracy and Max Weber may have been wrong on the Calvinist origins of modem capitalism. Still, they argued for the pivotal importance of our field.”
from “Church History as Vocation and Moral Discipline,” Church History, Vol. 70, No. 1, (2001), 17.
P.S. from Clifford Geertz
“Religion” is everybody’s favorite dependent variable.
from “The Pinch of Destiny: Religion as Experience, Meaning, Identity, Power,” in Available Light: Anthropological Reflections on Philosophical Topics, (Princeton, 2000), 173.