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Critical and edifying? A historiography of Christian biography Janzen Loewen, Patricia

Abstract

This dissertation argues that edifying dialogue is an appropriate and satisfying component of historically critical biography. It has been a part of biography. The edifying and critical intent is traced through pre-modern biography to demonstrate that this was the case in the Hebrew, Greek, Roman, Early Christian and Medieval eras. Key authors examined include the author(s) of the Pentateuch, the Gospel writers and the authors of the Biblical epistles, Herodotus, Polybius, Livy, Plutarch, Tacitus, Athanasius, Jerome, Sulpicius Severus, and John Capgrave. It can be a part of biography even given the challenges of contemporary theory posed by the extreme positions of positivism and postmodernism (or their chastened re-formulations). Important authors discussed in this section include Arthur Marwick, Keith Jenkins, David Harlan and Peter Novick. It is a part of some biographies meant for a particular audience (such as feminist works). And hopefully it will be increasingly looked upon as the preferred way of writing biography. My dissertation follows these stages. I begin with what biography has been and argue that the Greek and Roman historians believed that the intent of biography was critical and edifying. In fact, critical and edifying intent is notable also in Biblical and medieval biographies. The next section argues that edifying discourse is compatible with both traditional and postmodern theories of history-writing. The third section of the dissertation moves from theoretical considerations to the work of two notable Christian historians, George Marsden and Harry Stout. I note that these two scholars in particular are, in theory, open to my argument but that they can hesitate to engage in edifying discourse in biography. Finally, I briefly examine a few authors who write edifying and critical biography. Toril Moi, Carolyn Heilbrun, and the Bollandists are discussed in this section.

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