Why the study of religion is a maze, full of dead ends and bear traps

Neil Godfrey is a blogger who writes mostly on Christian origins at Vridar. As far as I know, he is a librarian who has no formal qualifications in the field. But he is deeply analytical in his approach and frequently gets up the nose of scholars who do have those qualifications, questioning their underlying assumptions.

Godfrey has just written a superb piece on the nature of scholarship in the field of Christian origins. It expresses so well the minefield that has to be negotiated to try and reach the truth of an issue when you’re dealing with people’s heart-felt beliefs; matters that deeply define their self-identity. And when those heart-felt beliefs are held by highly credentialed scholars, it can be very difficult for a layman like me to penetrate arguments flavoured by those beliefs.

I am currently straining through an entry by Karen Armstrong on the life of Muhammad in the Encyclopedia of Religion. I have barely finished Page 1 and my margin notes feature annoyed jottings like “BS” and “Evidence?” She’s working from sources that are 200 years after the event. If the gospel writers can create devotional fiction just 40 – 70 years after their subject lived – and this has tied Historical Jesus scholars in knots for the past 100 years – imagine the fun when Historical Muhammad scholarship really gets going!

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