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Postmodernist history

Apr 23, 1997 08:35 AM
by K. Paul Johnson

A recent discussion I've observed on another list tends to
support Bart's discomfort with the extension of postmodernist
discourse into inappropriate places.  On a list for discussion of
Baha'i history and theology in a scholarly context, one
non-Baha'i scholar (an eminent historian) has been attacked for
saying that there are objective standards for historiography.
The gist of the argument, wrapped in a lot of extremely fancy
verbiage, was this: 1) all points of view are subjective and
relative 2) you are falsely claiming that history can or should
be approached objectively 3) therefore our uncritical
hagiographies are just as good as any other kind of history, so
stop criticizing them.

An extreme example, of course, but one that illustrates Bart's
point.  There is certainly a strong tendency in Theosophical
circles to reduce every history or biography to the alleged
subjectivity of the author.  And following the discussion of
Eckankar in the newsgroup devoted to that subject, I have
repeatedly seen vast amounts of incontrovertible evidence about
the movement's founder casually dismissed as the subjective opinion
of the scholar who unearthed it.

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