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March/April 2006 Historically Speaking 27 ginalization. Without a functional metanarrative , the humanities in the West can no longer deliver on a promise ofmeaning. Ifeverything one writes not only lacks overarching meaning but, as our postmodernist leading lights would have it, positively trumpets a lack ofoverarching meaning, who should bother to read any of it? History—any scholarship—designed to speak only to particular constituencies will ultimately become unintelligible to the general public. Government entities that fund education , on the other hand, seek to represent and support consensus in educational goals. Human beings crave and feed upon meaning, in the big sense of that word. Even postmodernist scholars frequently cast themselves in terms of exposing unequal power relationships and oppression: a metanarrative oftranscendent justice. It seems self-evident that most people are quite open and intuitive about their need for meaning. Lacking a socially operative meaning is therefore a deficiency, a sort of malnutrition that will starve scholarship , especially of the sort that has never justified itself on other grounds like profitability. The lack ofmeaning is potentially dangerous not only to the humanities but to science and other intellectual endeavors as well. Scientific discourse does not seem to provide a satisfying worldview to many in the West. It may well be that Christian-inspired notions of mission, vocation, even predestination and telos, were important cultural stays of science and the popular will to support it. If current popular entertainment markets are any indication , more and more people now seek release in things like sports, sexually oriented businesses and entertainment, and consumer selfindulgence . None of these promotes the love of education, the sense of mission and vision, the quest for excellence, or the romance ofthe unknown so dear to scientific pursuits. In the short run, such cultural values may well distort science into the merely profitable or the marketable. In the long run, such values may diminish public willingness to make the commitments of support necessary to sustain scientific progress at all. To articulate the course and fate of the Christian metanarrative is not at all to seek to revive it. There is no sense among cultural arbiters that society would be well served by the revival of institutional Christian influence on any model heretofore seen in the West. I propose to thoughtful Christians that they would not be well served in such an instance. Moreover, it would seem to be the nature of the metanarrative that it describes an organic phenomenon. A tradition does not arise ex nihil; neither does a metanarrative. Any current manifestations of Christian political activity in the West are but fragmentary remnants ofa once decisive presence. They represent no real alternative to the models of Western society emergent since 1945. Kenneth E. Hendrickson is associateprofessor ofhistory at Sam Houston State University. He is the author ofMaking Saints: Religion and the Popularizing of the British Army at Home, 1809-1885 (Forleigh Dickinson University Press, 1997). Guilt by Association: The Disgrace of Narrative History Paul Jankowski whiffofdisrepute, faint yet tenacious, A still surrounds "narrative" history writing, even as the word itself daily conquers new ground in the columns ofnewspapers and the corridors ofbureaucracies. The Democrats needed a narrative instead of a litany, the former Clinton adviser James Carville reflected after the Democrats' defeat in 2004, as though to lament his party's inability to surpass particularisms and concede to its opponents a diabolical talent for rearranging reality. An article in USA Today about the trial of Saddam Hussein began by informing its readers that "the narratives of countries are inextricably tied up with the lives of the men and women who rule them": out go national histories, in come self-serving pleadings, the stuff of many a learned dissection. The under secretary of state for political affairs, R. Nicholas Burns, announced recently that he wished to create among Bosnian Serbs and Muslims a "common narrative of what happened in the war," that is, a rendition ofhistory that both could live with—fruthful or not, who was to say? At my university, a course description submitted to justify a new offering is grandly called a "narrative." Historians themselves discern ubiquitous hidden "narratives " in the past, governed by unfailingly subjective...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1944-6438
Print ISSN
1941-4188
Pages
pp. 27-30
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
N
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