Review of Literature: Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD
I recently made my way through ‘The History of the Renaissance World’ by Susan Wise Bauer. Initially, I was rather annoyed. I was reading this book to refresh my memory of the Renaissance era that I knew and loved. Yet, as I continued to read, the book was not what I expected. After a chapter on the rediscovery of Greek and Roman literature, the next chapter took me to 11th century China, and then to Japan, and then to Southeast Asia, India, Mongolia and then back to Europe before finding myself in Ethiopia and the Kingdom of Axum. Now, I was expecting something different. I was expecting Petrarch to Michelangelo in eight easy steps! The book, however, was reminding me that there was a world that extended far beyond the Italian peninsula or the environs of Paris. There was a world, and cultures, and peoples that I did not know very well, and they also made up “the Renaissance World”. Moreover, my lack of knowledge of this other history in no way diminished its importance or, indeed, its influence on the modern world in which I live and try to understand.
This, of course, should not be surprising. In the course of my career I have both written and supervised dissertations at the post-graduate and doctoral levels. In such dissertations, especially in the arts and humanities, one begins with what is called a “review of literature”. In this review of literature you explore and evaluate what has already been written on the topic you have chosen to address in your research. Generally speaking, you begin with a broad examination to establish context, and become increasingly more focused upon writers and research that touch directly upon your chosen topic. It is only then that you begin to offer opinions or a “thesis” based upon your own examination of primary and secondary sources. While such a review of literature may seem to be the preserve of the academy, I would like to suggest that even in a less rigorous form, it also has value in evaluating claims and assertions… especially those made on social media.
For instance, the political and economic ideas of libertarianism have been proposed to me by friends and colleagues for decades. In responding to them, I am ashamed to say, I generally depended upon what I picked up here and there in this or that article. Finally I decided that if I was going to discuss this with my friends, I needed my own “review of literature” on the subject, so I asked them what to read. After Rand, Hayek and other suggestions, I found that there was much that I agreed with, some that I disagreed with, and a good bit that I needed to think about at length. That is normal and, I believe, healthy. The purpose of the reading is learning and understanding, not conversion. I take a similar approach to history. Much has been said, good and bad, about the 1619 Project. I wonder, however, how many of those commenting upon this exploration of slavery and race exploitation in America have bothered to read the materials or explore the books included in bibliographies? I started reading some suggested books a few years back and, I must say, my eyes were opened to aspects of American history of which I had scant knowledge and/or understanding. Now, this is not to say that I agree with all aspects or conclusions of the 1619 Project, but my own understanding of the issues has changed and developed as a result.
This concept of a review of literature is especially important, I believe, when one is exploring theology. Few theological constructs stand in isolation. As much as some might like to say, “The Bible Alone”, even that statement engenders questions. We think of translations and the original languages. We consider the formation of the canon of scripture. We discuss the dates of writing. How has the passage been interpreted through the centuries? Are there other passages that bear upon its interpretation? This, of course, is not even to consider the corollary aspects of systematic theology, church history, creedal formulations, etc. Now, this is not to say that one cannot simply find comfort in reading a passage from the Bible. You can… I do it morning and evening. It is, however, to say that there is also a universe of meaning in a passage that one might discover by reading well and broadly.
To put it simply, education is not static, nor is it really solitary. Even if you are alone in your office or study, you can be in conversation with the past, the present and, yes, with the future as well. If your interest takes you in a particular direction, a simple review of that which has already been written is most likely still the best place to start.
Thanks for this…as you know this topic weighs heavily on my mind.
When I started to seek orders in the Anglican church I found a whole category that I had never been exposed to.
It was like starting my theological education all over again.
It was and is daunting at my age…but it is also exciting and life giving.
There is no shortcut to learning and wisdom takes longer…
Many thanks… It truly is a life-long journey and all of us, in one way or another, are on that road.
And I miss taking classes so much.
I miss both taking classes and teaching classes… the teacher almost always learns as much as the student.
Oh, I would love to teach in a bible college / seminary setting some day. Maybe when I retire from my day job.
But the research is what I miss most. Taking in and synthesizing a large swath of information on a particular subject is just so helpful. I still do it on a much smaller level, but without the discipline of a grade / degree / certificate hanging in the balance, I definitely reduce the amount of pain involved.
I even grew to enjoy Turabian.
“I even grew to enjoy Turabian.”
Of a review of literature and research can help one calculate the Erdos-Bacon-Sabbath number of an individual. Google the term and you see how it is calculated.
Here is a link on what is the Erdos-Bacon-Sabbath number:
This article almost makes me want to return to school to study theology! I was chosen by my Humanities professor as “Student of the Year” and he tried convince me to major in Humanities . I was just a sophmore at San Diego State University. I remember asking him, ” What would I ever do with a Humanities degree?” I ended up majoring in Liberal Studies which was required in order to enter the one-year graduate program in Elementary Education. I had to choose an “emphasis” and I chose Social Sciences thinking it would help me later as a teacher. Here is a fascinating fact. As a freshman I took a course at SDSU that was called ‘The Old Testament’. I liked it so much I took the second 3 unit class called ‘The New Testament’ . I was not a Christian when I took these classes which were both taught by a Jewish scholar from Israel. At the end of the last class everyone wanted to know if the Jewish professor thought Jesus was the promised Messiah foretold of in the Old Testament. To my surprise and astonishment he said, “Yes, I believe that Jesus is the Messiah.”. I didn’ realise it then, but he must have been part of ‘The Jews for Jesus’ camp! I was raised in a non Christian home, but I knew that Jewish people weren’t supposed to believe that Jesus was the chosen Messiah of God. That was the beginning of my conversion experience! Six months after taking those classes I met a wonderful friend from Campus Crusade for Christ ( she’s still a close friend) and she led me to Christ. Who says that going to college will destroy your Christian faith? In my case my secular public university led me to Christ within one year! God can reach us wherever we are – we don’t have to fear the world as much as many Christians seem to think we should. My experience proves this to be true.
Bride of Christ
Your comment was a bright spot in my day! Thank you very much…