Gadamerian approach to science and religion historiographies: reinterpreting essentialism, anachronism, and complexity in recent science and religion historiographies through the thought of Hans-Georg Gadamer
Sikahall Urizar, Esgrid Esteban
This thesis explores three historiographical categories used in recent science and religion research: essentialism, anachronism, and complexity. It observes that these categories are historico-methodological tools that are deployed by historians to point at problems implicit in “science and religion” rhetoric. The three categories under investigation are notions deployed in the historiographical literature to observe that science and religion discourses tend to be misleading if they do not consider the historical nature of “science” and “religion.” This thesis agrees with the historians and in agreement with them argues that the way they are using the notions of essentialism, anachronism, and complexity is nonetheless problematic. The goal of this thesis in exploring these three notions is to show that historians use them in a problematic way and that despite these notions being used in a problematic way they still refer to issues that need addressing. These notions raise questions of history, temporality, rhetoric, and language, and by delving into these questions the historiographies that employ the notions of essentialism, anachronism, and complexity gain further relevance. Works such as John Hedley Brooke’s Science and Religion: Some Historical Perspectives (1991) and Peter Harrison’s The Territories of Science and Religion (2015) constitute the soil of this thesis. They are key parts of recent revisionist historiographical attempts to challenge and subvert many of the misleading historical myths and narratives about science and religion that to this day still play important roles in scientific, political, philosophical, theological, ethical, and cultural debates. What motivated the planting of this thesis in such a soil is the thought of German philosopher and philologist Hans-Georg Gadamer (1900-2002): our main methodological conversation partner. This thesis stems from wrestling with his work and is “a hermeneutical approach” to science and religion historiographies in reference to him. An implication of a hermeneutical approach is that historiographical works are engaged in this thesis by attending to their form and content. This thesis shows that the ways in which historians are telling their histories can hinder attempts at changing current science and religion rhetoric. In the context of science and religion historiographies, problems with science and religion rhetoric emerge in perceived tensions between the present and the past. On the one hand, there are contemporary issues that seem to relate to “science” and “religion,” and on the other, past realities that are seen now as having to do with science and religion. This thesis finds that the categories of essentialism, anachronism, and complexity are used in science and religion historiographies to deal partly with the tensions that give birth to science and religion rhetoric. Also, this thesis finds that the three categories feed a critical hermeneutic implicit in such historiographies. By conversing with Gadamer’s thought, this thesis unpacks the categories under investigation. These categories are usually deployed in science and religion historical scholarship as negations: anti-essentialism, rejection of anachronism, and complexity as against historical narratives of harmony or conflict between science and religion. Gadamer’s work helps us see why the methodological use of these categories in a negative register does not rid us of essences, anachronism, or meta-narratives of harmony or conflict; historiographies proceeding mainly in the negative register become vehicles of what they negate precisely through the means of critique. The thesis proceeds by: bringing into the open the critical hermeneutical habit common to these historiographies (Part One); observing some of the blind spots and assumptions of such a habit at the same time as its insights are integrated and re-interpreted (Part Two); and showing scholarship already building on some of these insights, practicing what could be called a “post-critical” hermeneutics (Part Three). A post-critical hermeneutics is a hermeneutics of tradition, called in the end of this thesis a hermeneutics of transmission. A hermeneutics of transmission does not eschew critique, but it includes critique in a wider panorama in order to integrate the observations from historiography without being parasitic on what they critique. This thesis concludes in its final chapter by displaying the hermeneutics of transmission at work, showcasing scholarship conscious of the limitations of an overall critical approach. By acknowledging the limits of critique, such scholarship moves in new and relevant directions, suggesting constructive possibilities for science and religion scholarship.