4.0649 Q: The Canonical Process (1/40)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Mon, 29 Oct 90 20:47:18 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 4, No. 0649. Monday, 29 Oct 1990.

Date: Mon, 29 Oct 90 12:35:22 EST
Subject: The canonical process

How would one give an "educational" (not historical) description
of "the canonical process?"

I raise this question because I am working on a book attempting to
characterize education in communities of text and liturgy. The model
is, of course, education to and in religious congregations. But it is
not limited to that, since constitutions are also texts and have their
commentary perhaps even parallel to Talmud and Midrash. And
constitutional communities also have their liturgies. (What did we do
when a Presidential innaguration -- constitutionally dated -- fell on
"Super-Bowl Sunday? Was this a conflict of two public liturgies?) A
central question is how it happens that texts, so broadly understood,
come to have authority.

By a community of text, I mean to refer to one that is defined by
a text (body of texts), its reading and announcement, like a
congregation. If we distinguish between the readings of "insider" and
"outsider," then the question as to how the texts gain authority is the
question as to how the reading of the outsider becomes a reading of the
insider. This requires, even in the case of Biblical texts, not an
historical account of how the canon came to be formed, but a pedagogical
account of how certain books can come to be "the books" for a reader.
What must happen in order for this transformation to occur? That is
what I mean by "the canonical process," the process by which texts gain

Something like this happens in academic studies. No student of
philosophy, for example, can claim familiarity with the problems of
epistemology and remain unacquainted by the writings of DesCartes, Hume,
Wittgenstein etc. At the beginning, a student might be given a
bibliography of "primary texts." The question "How did the canon get
formed?" might be asked at the beginning of the bibliographer. But how
does it happen that these works called authoritative by someone at the
beginning have become authoritative for the student at the end. It is
this question "at the end" that points to what I mean by the canonical

Who has ideas about how this process can be described? What
does its occurence require?
Tom Green -- Syracuse University