A Sociology of Sacred Texts

In: Numen


In 1992 Sheffield Academic Press will publish a selection of the papers given at this Conference, which was held in Newcastle in July 1991. The Conference was organized by the Department of Religious Studies at Newcastle University. The Head of the Department at the time was Professor John Sawyer. The publication will be edited by the new Head of the Department, Jon Davies, and by Isabel Wollaston, currently a British Academy Post Doctoral Fellow at Oxford. Two of our students-Carol Charlton and Michael Burke-worked extra hours to make sure the organisation functioned. Our thanks are due to them and to all participants. This article is in part a summary of the Conference and of those papers which will appear in the book. It is also a contribution in its own right to an understanding of the relationships between the social sciences [sociology and anthropology] and theology. Several cross-cutting social, personal and professional loyalties can, and often do create degrees of distance, dispute and misunderstanding between the two disciplines. As it happens, this Conference managed to find a respectable acreage of common ground; but it is perhaps useful to mention some of the possible areas of controversy, if only because any future conference will probably have to deal with them more directly than we chose to! Readers will of course realise that the book is still being prepared and that the papers discussed here may well be altered or added to. The premise of this article is that all "TEXTS", be they sacred or secular, ancient or modem, canonical or provisional, are the products of human social transactions, a human context, with all that this means for the processes of text-creation and the business of conscious, purposeful, fallible, writing and editing. Texts and contexts change together; and change each other.

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