Friday, September 02, 2011

living libraries and the communion of saints. a spirituality of study?

I wrote this in an email this morning. I thought I’d put it up here for comment.

Pedagogically, we believe in “living libraries” as well as “libraries” ie that wisdom is in people as well as books. So we encourage a starting with reflection on experience, and that being located in the reflection on experience of others. But we are weary of an approach that begins with doing a lot of reading, if it then suggests that folk lose their own voice and insights in the process. So reading after rather than prior.

Often I see higher education reduced to “read more books.” I wonder if in fact the real task of higher education is “reflection on experience, your’s and the communion of saints.”

By communion of saints, I meant the fact that we are not alone, that others have thought and reflected and wrestled and wept. So in humility, our reflection must include hearing their reflection. So I’m still a passionate advocate of bibliographies and footnotes. But framed as a spiritual discipline of humble reading, placed in dialogue with what God is doing in us, our lives, our communities.

There is still much academic rigour in the reading of experience. Perhaps more, because you have to read yourself truly and critically, as well as read others truly and critically.

For more on this, see here. For how this might apply to the use of senses in experience and Biblical scholarship, see here and here.

Posted by steve at 11:05 AM


  1. do you know Graham Sutherland (he’s a kiwi too) – I heard him give a paper once in London, on reading theology and history as a conversation with the saints, rather than as a “dry” or abstract exercise. I don’t think you can get away from reading if you are going to be properly rigourous, but quite what the reading experience is perhaps needs revisiting from time to time. It should be engaging and exciting as often as it’s tedious and laborious, don’t you think?

    Comment by maggi — September 2, 2011 @ 11:21 am

  2. I think it should it be both – engaging/exciting and tedious/laborious. That is the nature of disciplines. So I’m not arguing for less reading, just how to do it?

    What I am weary of it when I go to teach a postgrad course and people want a reading list for students to read prior. It’s like the message we send is – you are tabla rusa, blank slate and here are the experts to intimidate you.

    but the Living libraries it seems to me allows a conversation in which we both value our experience and those of others today, while expecting to need to read the experiences of others ie the saints who’ve written before


    Comment by steve — September 2, 2011 @ 11:30 am

  3. Good thoughts, Steve. I think it would be a useful experience to set a “pre-reading” exercise that encourages students to reflect on their context, perhaps providing 3 different models of what they could do. Like some of the tools we used in Missional Church Leadership, but this would be asking postgrad students to engage with their context beforehand.

    Comment by Paul — September 2, 2011 @ 1:00 pm

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