Saturday, September 13, 2008

What is Methodology?

Is there a single answer to this question? The three readings we had this week each came with their own methodologies about a topic of study. I am not really sure what is the best way to define methodology but I am assuming that it is the method or the procedure by which the author gains perspective and through which the proposed thesis can be investigated. There are several different types of methodologies which were discussed in the articles.

A New Method
In Bynum’s Introduction to Holy Feast she writes that she will be studying material that has been studied before but she will present it in a new way (5). She mentions upfront that often scholars incorporate their modern biases into the reading of texts and as a result they do not see the texts in the correct context. She claims to be utilizing a historical method whereby she will analyze her texts within the context in which they were written. Within this historical model she narrows her approach further to a particular period of time without looking at the broader implications of the historical development of food and food-related metaphors. Religion plays an important role in her method. Her methodology is very concerned with the religious context in which these ideas about food and food metaphors in the 13th and 14th centuries. She is not simply looking at society but she is looking at food as it is portrayed and understood within a religious framework (4). She acknowledges several modern biases about food and the ways in which it is perceived. She is using the context to guide her research and is aware of modern biases surrounding the issues of food.

Re-vamping an Old Method
Huntington highlights the pervasiveness of the text-critical model, which has dominated the discussion of Asian religions in the West. This model has been dominant mainly because of its commonalities with the scientific method. After he describes this method he explains the underlying concepts behind them. Huntington claims to take a new methodological approach to the study of Buddhist literature. He acknowledges the biases that have dominated the field but does not dismiss the work that has been done previously. An interesting statement that he makes is that “what we learn in our encounter with these texts is in every way a function of the tools we bring to our study” (9). This has caused me to think about how methodology shapes the way we approach ancient (and perhaps even modern) texts. He believes that before we begin looking at an ancient text we need to understand and acknowledge the biases we bring to that text (11). How do our conceptions of a text reflect our understanding of that text? This introduction was very interesting because he did not just abandon the text-critical model rather his solution to the problem of methodology is to incorporate the principles of text-critical scholarship while rejecting the notion of objectivity that had historically gone hand in hand (12-13). The ideas about how we approach texts is something that I would be interested in exploring further in subsequent meetings.

No New Method
Bynum’s In Praise of Fragments does not claim to be introducing a new method rather she is using a new voice, which she calls the comic mode. This is different from the other readings in that Bynum does not make a claim about new conceptions and methodologies. Although she does acknowledge the methods and concepts of the people she has used in her book, she nonetheless claims not to have adopted them into her own conclusions (15). A question I was asking myself throughout this reading was if methodology was a mandatory part of one’s research. Is it inevitable to use methodology or is it possible to dismiss this and simply build upon the work of one’s predecessor. I am not entirely sure how to formulate this question, however I want to understand more about methodology and its importance for the study of religion. I want to know where methodology and knowledge of the material come together and affect one another.

I hope that this has raised some questions. I have many as I wrestle with my understanding of the material in relation to my studies and the ways in which I write about the ancient world.


Roselle said...

hey nathalie!

breaking your post into three parts was a good way to get the reader (me!) interested, and keep me there.

i like your idea of bynum using methodology to narrow her focus inwards.

finally, to attempt to answer your question of no method...could a lack of method be a method in itself? just a thought...

emilyspringgay said...

How can we determine if we are bringing their own presuppositions or biases into their reading of a text? If this can be recognized, is it possible to eliminate any modern ideas we bring to an ancient texts? Will this provide us with more than a "partial" reading?

Ada Chidichimo Jeffrey said...

Hi Nathalie!

In the first part you mention Bynum's use of context. But what is the ‘correct context’? is it the context that Bynum sees them in? Or is that a context specific to her orientation?...
I think you’ve hit the nail on the head when you ask how our own previous conceptions actually change and shape our understanding of the text.

I also like the way you have grouped the articles!

Re: Bynum's comedic voice

I think that Bynum’s “voice” is also a textual approach that is phenomenological in its stance. I think that on page 15, she acknowledges that she hasn’t used any one theory or method in its entirety, but that she has used bits and pieces from each. This is in line with her comic stance, wherein, though phenomenological what with her self-conscious bracketing, she is not following the phenomenological rallying cry of “to the things themselves” because she is not studying texts alone, but trying to incorporate a more holistic understanding of the time period in general.

I do think methodology is a necessary part of research, at least in terms of an acknowledgement of one’s own particular stance, whether it be case-specific, based on textual anaysis, etc. I think even if one is building on the work of one’s predecessor, one will be using a particular methodology, (that of the predecessor) and it is important to know what that is so that one is aware from the outset of one’s own particular biases and slant.

Mike Jones said...

Hey Nat,
First, I’d like to say I like the style of your blog. You ask great questions throughout, most of which I could only hazard a guess at an answer to, but it is really thought-provoking.
I think that the use of a methodology in research is inevitable, since we all use the tools that were taught to us and bring our own values to our research. By building on the work of someone else, you are adopting their methods. I am curious of how often authors cogently follow a strict methodological path, or simply claim not use specific methods in their research, as you mention Bynum does.
I like that you touch on the theme of modern biases and conceptions in your look at the Holy Feast and Huntington articles. It is an important and probably unsolvable problem is researching the past. We can try and ‘bracket’ our biases, as Bynum says, but that relies on us realizing what our own biases are. I think it is possible for people to be self-aware enough to understand some of what they bring to their research (I’m a Ralien so I should keep in check my theological opinions while studying Heaven’s Gate) but people are often completely unaware of major biases (the elderly in respect to racism comes to mind). Is it possible to keep our conceptions from skewing the data? Probably not....but I don’t know.