Empirical research

This month I have been thinking about our graduate program at Rice, and the biblical field and its direction of research. I have written many posts on my concern that the field's infatuation with theory is causing many universities to produce a generation of new scholars who have become more and more detached from the texts and history and the hard work of empirical research.

When I attended a humanities fellows luncheon at Rice a few weeks ago, a historian of French literature spoke directly to the point in her field. When we do not do the empirical research, but privilege theory and method, we are at a disadvantage, because theory and method are trends that shift and change and go away. But the empirical data does not, and so we need to be the best linguists, the best philologists, the best textual scholars we can be.

Although it is to our advantage to employ a variety of approaches and nuance our approach to history, there is no substitute for the hard work of facing the text at the manuscript level, checking decisions made by editors of critical editions we rely on, being immersed in the literature and culture of the era we are studying, and being attuned to the metaphysical and practical landscape of the text under analysis. None of this is "sexy" or "innovative," and it is not quick in terms of ease of publication. But without it, we are left with theory which is here today and gone tomorrow.