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.
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