Research Methods

Following the research methods of my dissertation director, Kenneth B. Steinhauser, my research methods include contextualization (historical, theological, political, and social) and examination of textual transmission (codicology and textual critical analysis of manuscript evidence) of texts.  I employ these research methods as the foundation for literary analysis of the texts, skills that I brought into my PhD studies from my seminary training at Covenant Theological Seminary.

As a historical theologian, I work from an apperceptive model of history,[1] which means that while I assume that the events in the past are unchangeable and irreversible, our description of the past (our historiography) changes as we continue to study the past.  We come to know historical events not as first-person observers, but through the mediation of artifacts and the narratives of others.  The narratives of the past events have been selectively told.  This model assumes neither a golden standard of the past in which someone “got it completely right” nor that a given tradition is moving toward a divinely appointed fullness which will “have it all completely right” in the future.  The apperceptive model appreciates the finiteness of human persons while exposing sinfulness  and holding out hope that we can understand some things better than our ancestors did, but only because we have their insights, discoveries, and reflections to build upon.[2]  This model of history calls us to consider that there may be multiple “golden threads of continuity” with different Christian traditions emphasizing distinctive facets of the gospel that only as a whole makes up the completeness of the gospel as it is currently being understood.  This, in turn, is a call to be humble in our projections of what the fullness of Christianity ought to look like in a given context.  This model encourages the theologian to offer hospitality to theological voices that differ, especially those who have been marginalized or disenfranchised.  Hospitality, however, does not preclude the need to engage texts and ideas critically.

As a historical theologian, my work is theologically focused.   As a historical theologian interested in Christian spirituality, I am especially interested in how theology is lived out in the past and the present, especially among the common (lay) people.  Because my work is historical, however, my first responsibility is to allow the ancient theologian’s voice to be heard rather than to make prescriptions based upon that theologian’s work without giving him or her due credit.

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[1] This is one of the four models of historiography described by Kenneth L. Parker in his historical methods class, fall of 2005, Saint Louis University.  These models will be the focus of his forthcoming book on historical theology (“Henry Cardinal Manning, Lord John Acton, Johann Ignaz Döllinger and John Cardinal Newman’s Uses of ‘History’ in the Controversy over Papal Infallibility during the 1860s and 1870s.”)

[2] I work from a Polanyian framework rather than a Kuhnian one, which means that I assume that we are constantly seeking and bumping up against a reality that is fixed.