It is important for historians to have well-rounded historical data from which to cultivate knowledge of events of the past. Exum suggests that using spiritual or mystical texts while, “investigating alternative historical scenarios can sharpen our framing of the important questions” (7). Religious writings can help in research of alternative perspectives to documented history.
Is there a place in history class for discussion of these works?
While historians can gain a well-rounded perspective from study of these works, students should be encouraged to focus on documented history. Exum argues:
“Biblical history, on the whole, lacks such a valuable degree of corroborative evidence, especially for earlier periods. The Bible is often the single witness to the events it proclaims, and, any light it sheds on the history of the times is purely accidental…Given both the nature and the paucity of our sources, much reconstruction of biblical “history” is hotly contested” (4-5)
This argument makes it clear that while giving alternative perspectives for historians to consider, it would be inadvisable for students to study these works in history class, lest it augments confusion of the subject matter.
What other materials could be used when discussing the impact of religion on politics, culture and other aspects of history?
Academic alternatives to spiritual texts for the study of the historic impact of religion on politics, culture, and other aspects of history would be economic and political records that substantiate documented history and refer to the religious impact on the culture. Gates and Steane suggest that religion should be studied academically with, “a system of ideas and beliefs that link the culture itself to political and economic ideas and forms the basis of economic and political systems and theories that emerge in the culture” (303). Focusing on political and economic sources rather than spiritual texts will give a clearer picture to the student of documented history.
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