The Reception of Authoritative Texts
ATTR Fall Term Seminar at the Norwegian Institute at Athens
Photo: Leonora O. Bergsjø
“Modern Maps and Ancient Terrains: The Unavoidable Force of Modern Identity Politics in the Reception of ancient remains."
The lecture is built up by a few case studies:
1. In introductory case on the 19th century invention of ancient Greece, and how modern notions of nation, culture and people shaped what was sought for in the ground.
2. A discussion of the reception of archaeological materials in the interpretation of Paul’s letters (New Testament)
3. A discussion of the curious non-reception of later Christian archaeological materials in the interpretation of Paul’s letters (New Testament)
4. A closing theoretical reflection on the phenomenon of reception, and why it is important to study reception critically.
“Plato redivivus. Ideology and Politics in the Interpretation of Plato”
The history of Platonism is a mining field of philosophical worldviews, political ideologies, religious mysticism, utopias and mythology.
One can claim that Platonism so- called is a history of various interpretations linked to a variety of intentions, conventions, conceptual innovations, easily traceable or masterfully hidden within the exegetical texts. Hence, the original Plato remains a fragmented figure, shadowed, like an enigmatic painting – its secret seems to be deeply impressed in the cells of the canvas.
Understandably, after all, we have to reinvent Plato for ourselves, reconstructing anew the texts and the dialogues, yet we are virtually constrained by our subjectivity which might be in tension with our lively desire to render the philosopher in his original form. Powerful constraints blur our vision, gigantic obstacles – such as contextualism, the “methodology of coherence” and systematization, etc. There are many epistemological issues involved in such enterprise, the interpretation of ideas is still a highly contested field. In this seminar issues of interpretation are embodied in the narrative itself.
Primarily, I aim to offer you at least two distinctly contrasting images of Plato, within a span of a century or less – the British Plato of the nineteenth century (which is not one but many (!) – for example, the “utilitarian Plato”, the “idealist Plato”, the “oculist Plato”) and the early twentieth-century Platonic representations in totalitarian and anti-totalitarian literature, culminating in a sustained anti-Platonic polemics such as Karl Poper’s “Open Society”. We may provisionally define, amidst obscurity and contradictions, those two Platos as the “liberal”, open-minded Plato, the purely Socratist and inquisitive and the totalitarian Plato. Can Plato be rescued from the impetuousness of his followers, of his disciples and interpreters?
“The Reception of What? Transmission and Transformative Engagement with Texts and Manuscripts/Manuscripts and Their Texts”
This paper will discuss two challenges that will typically meet studies of the reception history of late antique texts, based on my own exploration of the history of transmission and engagement with 2 Baruch, commonly categorized as a 1st-2nd century, Jewish apocalypse and pseudepigraphical text.
Focusing my research on the manuscripts that in fact preserve this text, the following critical deliberations have become unavoidable to my thinking:
- When I talk about “the reception history of 2 Baruch” (and by implication, when scholars in generally talk about the reception history of any given text) I contribute to an imagination of a fixed and finished entity that can be identified as such and effectively traced throughout history. In other words, I am creating an “object” of reception that may or may not be a fruitful tool for my study. Does this imagination fit the source material that has in fact come down to us? If not, what alternative ways are there for imagining reception, and why is it that these alternative imaginations would challenge key assumptions in the study of a wide range of late antique texts?
- In my study I explore transmission, engagement and transformation by studying texts in the format in which they have survived in manuscripts. In order to understand how 2 Baruch has been understood at various points in history I ask myself: what is this manuscript, how was it identified by those who produced and engaged with it, and how would this affect their interpretation of the texts copied in it? Turning to the manuscripts, thus, I meet new challenges that are adding to the above indicated complexity of studying reception: although a manuscript may have been produced for a particular purpose and in order to fit a certain category and area of usage (e.g., “Bible”) that does not mean that those who later engaged with it have used it accordingly (e.g., divinatory artefact). In other words, it is not only the object of reception that is unruly – the interpretation and practices of use of the circulating artefact, constituting the primary material context of that object, is slippery too. How can I deal with this challenge, and how is the challenge methodologically relevant both to those who study texts in their early contexts and to those who study their reception?
As indicated by this brief abstract, I will use my own ongoing research as a case in this paper, introducing some critical issues relevant to the larger field of reception studies, and inviting you to think with me about the methodological and paradigmatical consequences of rethinking them.
“Cross - multi – inter – disciplinary?
– Interdisciplinary insights for doing PhD-research”
In this seminar, we will familiarize ourselves with select current debates on interdisciplinarity in research and education.
More importantly we will explore the doing of interdisciplinary research at PhD level, and the multi-disciplinary context of the research school environment in particular. We will do this by case-based discussions of interdisciplinary research.
As the title of this seminar suggests, interdisciplinarity is an ambiguous term and the literature is overflowing with typologies and taxonomies of different kinds of interdisciplinarity. Roughly stated two overarching perspectives seem to exist. First, a dominating body of literature provides definitions that emphasize the integration of disciplinary perspectives (e.g. theories, methodological viewpoints, concepts or core literature) as the decisive criteria for interdisciplinarity. Second, a smaller body of literature points out that interdisciplinary research implies the disassembling of disciplinary based perspectives.
A growing literature focuses on the “doing” of interdisciplinary research. Doing may refer to mechanisms that enable or inhibit scholars of different disciplinary background and epistemological orientation to mutually benefit from collaboration. Examples of mechanisms could be the learning of new vocabulary, practicing appreciative inquiry across boundaries or having insights into collaborators philosophical positions as well as one’s own (Graybill and Shandas, 2010, p 405). However, whether emphasis is on integration or dismantlement “published perspectives are largely those of well-established faculty or researchers” (p. 406). This leaves us with little guidance on how to do interdisciplinary research at PhD-level. For instance, in educational settings it has been pointed out that «the responsibility is left with students to integrate the disciplinary approaches presented to them» (Holland, 2008, p. 14).
In this seminar we will first explore the interdisciplinary scope and features of our own research and that of our fellow students. Second, we will explore how to fruitfully work together in the research school. We will do this by discussing situations that activate questions regarding mechanisms of doing interdisciplinary PhD research, mechanisms such as
- Mastering multiple academic communities
- Recognizing discipline specific discourses
- Giving response across disciplinary boundaries
- Considering the transportability of concepts
- Recognizing breakdown in communication
- Choosing publication channels
- Mapping out literature
"Reception and use of the Qu’ran in Islam"
The lecture will give a brief account of how the Qur’an is thought to have come into being, according to Muslim tradition and what is historically known.
Then we shall look at how the Qur’an is used, as a book and a text, in ritual, devotion and the construction of theology in various forms of Islam (Sunni-Islam, Shi‘a Islam, Sufism). Special attention will be given to the theories designed to enable the use of the Qur’an as a source of Islamic law: how legal principles and specific rulings are derived from texts in the Qur’an, and the extent to which these principles and rulings are still subject to debate among Muslims.