Friday, March 7, 2014

Picking up where I left off - the problem of inter-disciplinary studies in the study of religion

My last post on 31 March 2012 was published shortly after my wife's cancer operation and before she began radiation treatment. After that, as I noted earlier this week, my efforts at blogging came to a standstill. Now I hope to pick things up again. At the end of my last post I wrote:

"Sadly, although Eric Sharpe recognized that one of the main problems facing religious studies is its “inter-disciplinary” nature few people take his concerns seriously. In light of his identification of the problem of “credibility” it is no surprise to find that when Wilfried Decoo investigated academic fraud he found that “A person engaging in inderdisciplinary activities is  more likely to engage in academic misconduct …" and “new interdisciplinary fields” in particular, “are at high risk” (Decoo, 2002:27 and 30). Yet despite growing evidence that inter-disciplinary fields encourage academic fraud university administrators continue to rush headlong to establish inter-disciplinary programs (Decoo, 2002:14-30)." This statement needs further clarification.

Here I need to put my cards on the table. When I was awarded an academic Festschrift, its title was Border Crossings: The Explorations of an Inter-disciplinary Historian. Throughout may career, as the editors noted, I have engaged in, and published, inter-disciplinary work. So  why am I agreeing with Sharpe and criticizing inter-disciplinary studies?

The answer is simple. I believe that to engage in inter-disciplinary work one must qualify to do so by mastering specific disciplines, their literature, theories, and research methods. Here Decoo reminds me of Karl Marx's caustic statement "M. Proudhon has the misfortune of being peculiarly misunderstood in Europe. In France, he has the right to be a bad economist, because he is reputed to be a good German philosopher. In Germany, he has the right to be a bad philosopher, because he is reputed to be one of the ablest French economists. Being both German and economist at the same time, we desire to protest against this double error." ( Karl Marx, The Poverty of Philosophy, 1847).

The problem with "interdisciplinary studies" as practiced by many people today is that it is an excuse for not mastering any discipline and simply picking and choosing statements that confirm one's prejudices. It is this type of writing that Sharpe rejected.  In my next post I will provide some examples to put this claim in context ...

Decoo, Wilfried, 2002, Crisis on Campus.Confronting Academic Misconduct, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press. 

van der Heyden, Ulrich , and Andreas Feldtkeller, 2008, Festschrift: BorderCrossings: The Explorations of an Inter-disciplinary Historian, Stuttgart, Franz Steiner Verlag. 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Why no recent postings?

Visiting a Blog that has not been updated for almost a year can be discouraging. And this Blog falls into that category. The reason is quite simple: a series of family illnesses. Now, I hope, things are getting better and I can return to blogging.