Not In My Expertise's Backyard

Academics are a touchy lot. First, the liberal Roman Catholic academics who questioned the bona fides of a man who writes op-ed columns for — get this — the liberal New York Times!!!. Now, a history prof (thanks to John Fea) in Wales who faults Niall Ferguson for not showing poper deference to professional specialization in an op-ed column about Islam and Europe:

Gibbon, then, saw the demise of the Roman empire in the fifth century as a peculiarly western tragedy; it was also one that risked happening again. No modern specialist of the period would accept Gibbon’s analysis as anything more than the posturing of an Enlightenment intellectual decrying the forces of “superstition” and “barbarism”. That Ferguson chooses to do so fits neatly with the primacy and ascendancy of the West in his historical vision. In this he is not alone: a string of right-wing commentators in the United States have expounded a similar vision equating modern America with ancient Rome, and issuing dire warnings that it risks a similar fate. This perspective has been subject to withering deconstruction by the late Jack Goody, who argued in his The Theft of History (2006) that much of world history has been shoehorned into a narrative framework derived from and designed to satisfy the experience of the West. It also purposefully leaves out of the picture the dynamic interactions and genuinely shared histories of the West and the rest of the world. But that is not a story that suits an agenda of “us” pitted against “them”.

What’s odd about this quibbling is that I don’t suppose Dr. Humphries would disagree with Ferguson about the barbarity of the Paris attacks. So barbarism, as bad as that word it, carries a degree of plausibility after what we’ve seen from the efforts of ISIS.

Nor do I suspect Dr. Humphries would really dispute the primacy and the ascendancy of the West to which Ferguson appeals. Sure, Humphries likely laments that supremacy as much as Ferguson celebrates it. But would Europe and North America really be facing Islamic terrorists if not for the dominance of the West in the Middle East? In fact, would the West even be the source of a global political and economic order had not Europeans began to fight back against Muslims first in the Crusades and then in the Reconquista and beyond? Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the New World was partly inspired by a hope to find more precious metals to fund the defeat of Islam. Would Jack Goody’s point about the “theft of history” even make sense if not for the West (for good — my living in the U.S. — and for ill — slavery) dominating the globe?

Again, that’s not to say that the West is innocent or should be celebrated. It doesn’t take a lot of historical imagination to appreciate Muslim resentment about the presence of Christians and westerners in formerly Muslim dominated territories. It may not even take much imagination to acknowledge that all people celebrate war and defeat of enemies — think the Battle of Lepanto and the Rosary. But simply to fault Ferguson for insensitivity to the standards of historical journals in the service of an op-ed piece while also failing to concede the sources of the historic opposition between Christendom and Islam, whether in its overtly Christian or secularized versions for Europeans, is to get lost in the weeds of academic pretense.

Would the French and Muslims be served better by reading historical monographs or by recognizing the antagonism divides them?

22 thoughts on “Not In My Expertise's Backyard

  1. DGH, you have to have a thick skin to be a public intellectual who does not toe the Orthodox post-modern multi-culti line. At least Ferguson is well compensated.

    I read the Ferguson piece yesterday and was inspired to buy the Kindle version of the Ward-Perkins book. I haven’t read it yet, but I have read the Peter Heather book Ferguson also references. There are a number of interviews with Ward-Perkins and reviews that emerge from a Google search. It seems to me that Ferguson treats them fairly, and then makes a point that is clearly his own. If I am a good enough reader to figure out where polemics takes over from peer reviewed academic history, isn’t Humphries?


  2. DGH, I catch your drift re: the West and am not unsympathetic to it. But, over the last 8 years, and particularly this last year, I have developed a deep appreciation for Western cardiology, so my ambivalence is much less than it used to be.


  3. DG link: failing to concede the sources of the historic opposition between Christendom and Islam. Would the French and Muslims be served better by reading historical monographs or by recognizing the antagonism divides them

    and so glad we have God’s word to inform, challenge, confound -God: sovereign,providential,plans never thwarted-man:fully responsible and accountable

    speaking of touchy-lot of-academics; Jesus-antagonism; eeeevangelicalizing- denouncing etc..
    good article here this am:

    “Evangelicals are people of faith and should be defined by their beliefs, not by their politics or race,” said NAE president Leith Anderson. The new report identifies four key statements that define evangelical beliefs, creating what may be the first research-driven creed.Those statements are:
    • The Bible is the highest authority for what I believe.
    • It is very important for me personally to encourage non-Christians to trust Jesus Christ as their Savior.
    • Jesus Christ’s death on the cross is the only sacrifice that could remove the penalty of my sin.
    • Only those who trust in Jesus Christ alone as their Savior receive God’s free gift of eternal salvation.
    Those who strongly agree with all four statements are more likely to attend church frequently and identify themselves as evangelical.“This simple set of four questions reliably discerns those who share evangelical beliefs from those who do not,” Stetzer said.”

    “In addition to the findings that 41% of self-identified evangelicals fall outside the new definition of evangelical belief, and 21% of those who disavow the evangelical label have beliefs that actually fall within the evangelical definition, Facts & Trends notes:
    • 23% of Catholics and 47% of Protestants hold evangelical beliefs.
    • 46% of Americans who attend church at least weekly hold evangelical beliefs.
    • 39% of those who identify themselves as Christians hold evangelical beliefs.

    Americans with a high school education or less are most likely to hold evangelical beliefs. Forty percent of those with no more than a high school education strongly agree with all four statements, compared to 26 % of those with some college, 22% of those with bachelor’s degrees, and 18% of those with graduate degrees.”

    Psalm 33: 10 The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples.11 The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations.


  4. cw –

    Forty percent of those with no more than a high school education strongly agree with all four statements…and 18% of those with graduate degrees.

    And lots of clergy have graduate degrees.


  5. cw l’unificateur:Ali, I think the main thing the study tells us is that lots of baptists didn’t go to college.#chortsplained

    You disagree with those four fundamental points, cw?

    I think you may have missed the point of that last paragraph:
    Luke 10:21 At that very time He rejoiced greatly in the Holy Spirit, and said, “I praise You, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight.

    re: #chortsplained how ’bout not only #prideisugly, even potentially kingdom-excluding : #Matt5:3


  6. You disagree with those four fundamental points, cw?”
    CW:Since you can read you know that I neither said or implied any such thing. Your kingdom keys are rattling.

    baptists believe the four points
    baptists are uneducated
    those who believe the 4 points are uneducated
    glad I’m not uneducated (i.e. believe the 4 points)

    cw – your hardening heart needs rattling, or should I say shattering


  7. CW- I haven’t seen Ali demonstrate an ability to read/comprehend on these comment threads, so I’d give up on that premise. The world will start to make a lot more sense.


  8. DGH, yep. But maybe globalization is really the world’s default mode, and things like “the West” are constructs. But then again, I may need to allow more time to adjust to the two new meds I started on this week.


  9. cw l’unificateur:
    Ali, listen to how Darryl McMeaniepants is kind and laudatory to a certain type of piety which is wedded to a solid ecclesiology and the ordinary means of grace:

    thanks cw. I will listen to it, though it is 53 minutes long (ugh, and sheesh, can’t you men ever be concise with words), and it is endearing- i.e. your defense of your beloved leader -though his own testimony ought behis own the best defense and anyway we were talking about you right now, cw, l’meanie r-grincheux-misogyne-pious-fiction(notice I just have to remove l’ l’unificateur until further notice 


  10. DGH, I always regret getting involved in these threads when they take a Protestant/Catholic turn, but what the heck. DING!!


  11. D. G. Hart
    Posted November 20, 2015 at 11:47 am | Permalink
    Dan, or maybe when popes start claiming universal jurisdiction, Europeans start thinking they can run the world.

    (A different) Dan
    Posted November 20, 2015 at 3:24 pm | Permalink
    DGH, I always regret getting involved in these threads when they take a Protestant/Catholic turn, but what the heck. DING!!

    You mean like always? Dr. Hart is obsessed.

    You know, like, Billy Bob Thornton in “The Apostle?” Always begging for a thrashing. Fascinating, Captain. 😉


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