I just posted this at Cliopatria:
Debate here and elsewhere on the intersection of faith and historical method led me to this fine article from 2001 in Christianity Today. It featured this terrific quotation from Mark Noll, who says what I have been trying to say in all of these debates for some time (but without much success):
Asked about the anti-supernaturalism of history, Noll made a distinction between what he called "ordinary" and "providential" history. Ordinary history, he said, limits itself to "evidence and causes and effects that almost everyone can be convinced might have taken place." While ordinary history might look quite secular, Noll sees it as fundamentally Christian in its presuppositions and worldview. He compared it to science. Christian scientists do their work with confidence because they believe that the world will make sense, and that God has made it possible for the human mind to understand the world.
So with the historian. "If I want to study the history of the American Revolution, I'm presupposing that something real took place, that the evidence left corresponds in some way to what really took place, that I'm intelligent enough to understand that evidence, that I'm able to put together a plausible explanation of cause and effect that might get us close to the truth," Noll said. "All those enterprises I see as implicitly dependent on a Christian view of God."
Noll seemed to imply that ordinary history, while it depended on God, would never have much to say about God. For as soon as someone contended that God had acted in a particular way, the subject would be too contentious to hope for general agreement.
Noll and George Marsden are perhaps the best known evangelical historians; Marsden wrote the marvelous 1997 work The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship. In 2000, he wrote about Christian history for the Atlantic Monthly. After asking why Christians are not afforded the same level of intellectual respectability as Marxist or feminist historians, Marsden argues:
...persons of religious faith should be free to express that faith in responsible ways within mainstream academic institutions that are public in the sense of serving a wide spectrum of the culture. At Harvard, for instance, there ought to be room for professors who are Orthodox Jews, traditionalist Christians, Muslims, etc., to relate their religious faiths to their teaching and scholarship, so long as they do not violate any essential rules of academia or of public life. The case is similar to that of scholars who are feminists, Marxists, etc. They should be free to openly relate their faiths to their scholarship, but they must do so in a way that respects the diversity of the community and especially of the student body. My point is that if such schools were more consistent in their affirmations of the value of diversity and of open truth-seeking, they would give religious scholars the same consideration as they give scholars from the other perspectives mentioned.
Hugo's post appears to discuss two different things: a) the claim that the doing of history is based on Christian assumptions (with which I have disagreed in part above; and b) an argument for a pluralism that willingly embraces varieties of religious commitments, as well as varieties of secular ideologies or identities. I'm not sure that it is helpful to attempt to deal with both issues in one post because both are pretty big issues.
I think I have a homework assignment. On the other hand, it's too beautiful a day to linger in front of the computer for long... more perhaps on Monday!