Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Religion and the Record

Specialists in religious history recently surpassed all other topical categories in our annual look at AHA members, raising interesting questions about what is attracting fresh interest in the field. …

A number of the specialists noted that social historians had highlighted the interests of common people and cultural historians had supplied the tools for studying the influence of religion, but until recently, much of the work treated religion as aberrant. There was a perception that this left a significant opening for new research that treated religion on its own terms.

William Taylor (Univ. of California at Berkeley) encapsulated the observations of a number of respondents on this point, noting that he had come to the subject because it was so prevalent in the documentary evidence. “I came to recognize that [expressions of faith] were woven into just about every aspect of life, not separate subjects I could leave for another time or someone else. My ongoing research and writing about religious matters continues to be carried out in this spirit—not as a field apart, but as integral to my reckonings with how people then understood their lives and acted upon those convictions.”