Boyer’s Model of Scholarship: A Syriac Case Study From Seventh-Century Egypt / Peter A.L. Hill

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Boyer’s Model of Scholarship: A Syriac Case Study

From Seventh-Century Egypt1

Peter A.L. Hill

Lecturer, Academic Development (Teaching Awards & Grants)

Learning and Teaching Unit

The question of scholarship is central to any discussion about the rôle of universities and their relevance within the seemingly ever-shifting contours of contemporary society. Yet although institutional statements about scholarly excellence abound, and despite the centuries of scholarly achievement that underpin the modern academy, it remains that no single, overarching definition of scholarship dominates the field. Notwithstanding that there are working arrangements respecting scholarship within the various disciplines, it remains that the breadth, complexity of data, and the multifarious nature of the contemporary intellectual enterprise, combine to foil simple reduction. In addition, there are aspects to scholarship and to scholars that ever will remain intangible. For instance, is it possible to pin down what might be described as the Zeitgeist, or what the Victorians would have called the ‘romance’, of scholarship?

Hence, while there are descriptions and definitions of scholarship on offer, they tend to disappoint; either by being vague and amorphous, or else by limiting the discussion arbitrarily to specific activities—‘research’ in particular.

Thinking about scholarship will challenge assumptions within the academy. For

one thing, it tends to be forgotten that much scholarship occurs beyond the confines of institutional academe. For another, if scholarship is performed and validated in different ways, to what extent are there commonalities, not only across disciplines, but within and across different cultures and intellectual terrains? The globalization of western higher education, attended as it is by narrowly defined functional goals and models of knowledge acquisition and application predicated on the presuppositions of the Enlightenment and its subsequent developments, lends urgency to the problem. The export of western higher education can be deeply resented when perceived as a species of neo-colonialism that intrudes upon cultures which may perceive, acquire and use knowledge in ways different to those of the West. Shared, non-culturally

specific, understandings of scholarship are required in order to build a valid global intellectual commons and to advance educational goals of intrinsic merit. Equally, the western academy needs to adequately appreciate the depths of its own scholarly traditions, if it is to comprehend and value the breadth of scholarship in its ranks, to unpack the presuppositions that it brings to cross-cultural situations, and to contemplate new paradigms that may facilitate entry into uncharted domains.

These introductory remarks alert us to the necessity, yet potential enormity, of

explicating the notion of scholarship. Here we attempt a modest contribution to that task by revisiting E.L Boyer’s influential, Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate (= Boyer 1990), and applying heuristically his model of scholarship to a

1 This article is based on papers presented to a seminar in the UniSA Learning and Teaching Unit, 23 October 2008, and to the Ninth International Symposium on Comparative Literature, Cairo University, 6 November 2008. I thank the participants on both occasions for their helpful comments. I am grateful especially to my colleague, Ms Dale Wache, who first suggested the topic.

scholarship that is ‘other’, in this instance to an event from Late Antiquity. This is an application of Boyer’s model that, as far as I am aware, has not been attempted previously. Hopefully, the exercise may offer some clues as to how the western academy may recognize and engage with scholarship from which it may be far removed by virtue of time, cultural context and conceptual categories. Also it may assist reflection on the nature of scholarship in contemporary higher education.

Boyer’s Model of Scholarship

Scholarship Reconsidered was based on the findings of a 1989 Carnegie Foundation survey that garnered over five thousand responses from academics in the USA (Boyer 1990: 127). Its central concern was to maintain the vitality of American higher education by providing “a more creative view of the professoriate” (1990: xii). A concomitant concern was the failure of universities to adequately recognize and reward the full scope of academic activity. In Boyer’s view, the deficiency arose from an inadequate appreciation of “the meaning of scholarship itself” (1990: 1). Hence, while academics were required to perform a variety of professional tasks, the reality was that academic rewards, such as promotion, were predicated upon institutional understandings that frequently conceived of scholarship narrowly in terms of research. The result was that those academics who spent the greater part of their time engaged with other professional activities, such as teaching and service, were disadvantaged in terms of recognition and reward. Boyer believed that the way to address this inequality was to inculcate a broader understanding of scholarship, and

thereby furnish the rationale required to broaden the scope of academic recognition.

Boyer observed that knowledge is acquired in the academy, not only through

research, but also through a range of scholarly activities, such as synthesis, practice and teaching. As Nicholls (2004: 31) remarks, “he argued that academics are first, foremost, and perhaps exclusively, scholars,” and consequently “he saw scholarship as subsuming all the traditional roles of an academic.” This led him to propose four domains of scholarship: namely discovery, integration, application and teaching. These domains “divide intellectual functions that are tied inseparably to each other”, while together “they dynamically interact, formatting an independent whole” (Boyer 1990: 25). With some justification he believed that an expansive and dynamic model of scholarship, such as he postulated, would enable universities “to meet today’s urgent academic and social mandates,” by relating “the work of the academy more directly to the realities of contemporary lives” (Boyer 1990: 13).

At the very least, Boyer’s achievement was to furnish “a vocabulary for discussion of the intellectual life of academe” (Glassick 2000: 877), whatever the attendant conceptual and practical difficulties. He painted a broad outline, and his untimely death required others to supply the detail.2 For our purpose, however, the relative simplicity of his model offers a convenient means to explore the idea of scholarship from the perspective of scholarly praxis.

The Work of Thomas of Harkel

The scholarship of Thomas of Harkel (circa 560–circa 640),3 is a convenient case

study, because while Thomas is ‘other’ in being far removed from us in terms of time, culture, intellectual formation and social setting, at the same time his textual legacy and field of study make much about his work generally accessible. Culturally he was

2 E.g. the supplementary work by Glassick, Huber, and Maeroff 1997; compare Boyer 1995.

3 Little is known about Thomas’ life. Gwynn 1887 remains the fullest account.


a Semite, his native language, and his language of letters, being Syriac which, prior to the Islamic conquests, was the dominant Aramaic dialect across the areas which today comprise Syria, eastern Turkey, Iraq and parts of Iran.4 Though living in the Byzantine Empire, familiar with Hellenistic thought, and manifestly expert in Greek, he and his co-religionists were at odds with the Orthodox Church of the empire—the flash-point being the Christological determinations of the Council of Chalcedon (451). 5 Thomas served as a monk, diocesan bishop, and as an ‘executive assistant’ to the Syriac patriarch of Antioch. He knew also what it meant to be a refugee, for in 599 he was exiled from his diocese by the Byzantine authorities. Indeed, it was while

still in exile, some fifteen years later in Egypt, that he performed a remarkable feat of scholarship by completing a major revision of the Syriac New Testament.

The Syriac versions are among the earliest translations of the Greek New


Based on earlier versions, the Peshitta (‘simple’)—which includes all the

books of the New Testament except the Minor Epistles (2 and 3 John, 2 Peter, and Jude), and the Apocalypse—appeared sometime in the fourth century and quickly became established as the standard version of the Syriac-speaking churches. Thomas’ revision of the New Testament was not intended to supplant the Peshitta, but aimed rather to produce a supplementary Syriac text for the use of fellow scholars.

Theological concerns emerged with intense social impact during the fourth and

fifth centuries. Consequently, Syriac-speaking Christians found it necessary to

become more directly engaged with Greek thought and, in particular, the precise

wording of Greek texts. In the fifth century, attention was concentrated on how best to represent in Syriac (a Semitic language) the wording of originals in Greek (an Indo-European language). This interest gave rise to what we know as the Graeco-Syriac translation movement, which evolved techniques to achieve a formal one-to-one lexical correspondence between the Greek target text and the Syriac receptor text. These techniques developed during the sixth century, through a progressive refinement of semantic and syntactic calques, the regularization of lexical equivalencies, and an ever-increasing number of neologisms.6

Naturally, in such an environment, questions were asked about the utility of the

idiomatic Syriac Peshitta in accessing the layers of meaning in the Greek original. A notable response was made by the prominent and controversial bishop, Philoxenus of Mabbug, who commissioned a philological revision of the Peshitta. His aim was to have a version that brought the Syriac translation into closer formal agreement with the Greek text. In particular, he wanted to eliminate what he considered were instances in the Peshitta of lexical concessions to his ideological rivals.7 This version, the Philoxenian, was completed by Philoxenus’ chorespiscopus, Polycarp, in 507/8. It

4 The academic study of Syriac in the West goes back to the sixteenth century, and actively continues in many European and North American universities. Alas, despite excellent work done in the 1960s–1990s, the same cannot be said now for the Australian sector. There is an extensive literature on Syriac language, history and related matters, for which is a convenient starting point.

5 Thomas belonged to the West Syriac or ‘Monophysite’ church, centred ostensibly on Antioch, with its numerical strength being in the Levant and the adjacent regions of modern-day Turkey. Opposition to the Greek Orthodox Church was partly ideological and partly cultural and political. The West Syriac church was at odds also with the East Syriac, or so-called ‘Nestorian’, church that spread across Mesopotamia, Persia, Central Asia, and for some centuries, China. These churches retain a significant presence in the Middle East and India, and a large Diaspora in the West, including Australia.

6 Brock 1983. In the 8th–10th centuries, the Graeco-Syriac translators played a crucial rôle in the

transmission of Greek thought to the Arab world.

7 See Brock 1981.


was the first Syriac version to incorporate the Minor Epistles. However, the

Philoxenian was not widely circulated and, in any case, Polycarp’s philological

revision was soon overtaken by the ongoing evolution of the Graeco-Syriac technique. Indeed, the desirability of philologically updating the Philoxenian was probably the factor behind Thomas’ decision to undertake a thorough revision of the New Testament, based on the Philoxenian text and a collation of selected Greek copies. For a variety of reasons,8 it eventuated that Thomas’ New Testament revision was undertaken in concert with a Syriac translation of the Old Testament by Paul of Tella.9 The location chosen was in Egypt, at the Enaton monastic complex, named for the Roman staging-post nine miles from the city of Alexandria.10 The Enaton was a shelter for expatriate Syriac monks from the unwelcome interference of the Byzantine authorities, and also was a haven from the Persian invasion that had swept across Syria and Palestine. Indeed, after Thomas and Paul completed their work in 616, they remained at the Enaton until expelled in 619 by the Persian conquerors of Egypt. 11

The Bible produced by Paul and Thomas represents the apex of the Graeco-Syriac translation technique. For his part, Thomas skillfully used ‘mirror translation’ techniques to transform the Syriac textline of the Philoxenian Grundtext into a virtual calque of the Greek original. Syriac syntax and word order were sacrificed to artificially adhere to the Greek original, word-by-word and particle-by-particle—yet in such a way that the artificially contrived form of the Syriac text nonetheless remains quite intelligible.12 Textually, he collated selected Greek copies, so as to represent what he and his contemporaries regarded as the best Greek textual tradition. Moreover, by means of various critical apparatus, the Harklean version preserves an impressive array of textual traditions. Also, for the first time, Thomas incorporated the Apocalypse in a Syriac version.13

Boyer’s Model Applied

We turn now to applying Boyer’s model of scholarship to Thomas’ enterprise.

The scholarship of discovery, “comes closest to what is meant when academics

speak of ‘research’”. It speaks of “the commitment to knowledge for its own sake, to freedom of inquiry and to following, in a disciplined fashion, an investigation

wherever it may lead.” At its best, discovery “contributes not only to the stock of

human knowledge but also to the intellectual climate of a college or university”

(Boyer 1990: 17). On this analysis, discovery is predicated upon the intrinsic value of all knowledge. It is disciplined in its methods of inquiry. It is communal, inasmuch as it contributes to, and draws upon, the knowledge and experience of a learned community. Moreover, discovery is highly engaged, motivated by the intrinsic worth of acquiring knowledge for its own sake: “Not just the outcomes, but the process, and especially the passion, give meaning to the effort” (Boyer 1990: 17).

Thomas’ activity manifestly embraced the scholarship of discovery. One of the

reasons why he went to the Enaton was its proximity to Alexandria, which was

renowned for its classical scholarship, libraries and scriptoria. Here the “well

8 For which see my ‘Why a Harklean Version?’ forthcoming in the festschrift for R.Y. Ebied.

9 There is a Peshitta Old Testament, parts of which may date from the 2nd century B.C. However, Paul’s task was to collate and translate the fifth column of Origen’s Hexapla (3rd century)—substantially the Greek Septuagint version of the Old Testament—to produce what is now known as the Syrohexapla.

10 On the Enaton see the excellent survey by Gascou 2003.

11 Foss 2003 succinctly covers the Persian invasions, including the impact on the West Syriac church.

12 For an example of differences in approach between the Philoxenian and Harklean, see Hill 2008.

13 See Juckel 2004 for a critical introduction; also Hill 2003; and Metzger 1977: 1–75, more generally.


approved and accurate” Greek copies, referred to by the Harklean colophons, were to be located; in particular those embodying the scribal and critical traditions of the magisterial Origen of Caesarea. His research method was a systematic collation that compared the Greek texts, the Greek testimony to the Syriac testimony of the Philoxenian, and then weighed the evidence. As one of the Harklean colophons states, the task required “much attentiveness”. Thomas drew upon the skills inculcated by education and experience: philological expertise, an encyclopedic knowledge of Greek and Syriac lexical equivalencies, and a disciplined critical acumen.

It was honest, objective discovery that followed where the data led. Thomas’ critical integrity is evidenced by the fact that his Syriac translation shows no discernable ideological bias—in distinction to the partisan tendencies of the Philoxenian—and also by his readiness to preserve in the Harklean margin instances of variant readings that were inimical to his own theological position.14

Discovery is highly engaged. The work was motivated by a passion, described in a colophon as the love of the scriptures, but also as a desire “to know and to learn”. This passion was shared and nourished by a like-minded community and underpinned by the tradition in which he lived. At the Enaton, Thomas had the assistance of fellow Syriac expatriates; monks who are described in the colophon to the Apocalypse as “holy and industrious men…experts in two languages.”

He enjoyed also the congenial atmosphere of a monastery, a place of

contemplation. That environment must be credited with contributing to the quality of Thomas’ accomplishment. For discovery to plumb depths and its findings to be well-founded, contemplative time is required. It is no coincidence that the Greek root underlying the term ‘scholar’ denotes the idea of leisure, indicating that a scholar is one who enjoys a measure of freedom from other activities in order to contemplate knowledge. Probably few modern academics would immediately associate a university career with a life of contemplation. Nevertheless, as Louth (2003) reminds us: “The evolution of the university took the pattern of learning that characterized the monastic life—reading, meditation, prayer and contemplation.” Hence, the allocation of time for thinking, for pondering possible connections and for formulating the right questions, were embedded from the outset in the practice of academic scholarship.

Contemporary scholarship is faced with the same imperative: the preservation of

contemplative time remains integral to ensuring depth and quality in scholarship.

The scholarship of integration gives “meaning to isolated facts”. Scholarship

begins with discovery, but then requires to make connections by putting facts “into perspective”, in ways that illuminate and reveal their significance (Boyer 1990: 18). This activity might be described variously as contextualization, organization, or synthesis. Integration includes interpretation, which Boyer describes as the analytical task of “fitting one’s own research—or the research of others—into larger intellectual patterns” Whereas discovery asks, “’What is to be known, what is yet to be found?’”,integration asks, “’What do the findings mean?’” (1990: 19, original emphasis).15

In Late Antiquity, though distinctions were made between subject areas, the

prevailing assumption was that of the essential unity and universality of knowledge. Connections were more likely to be assumed than to be made. Hence, the issue of integration that Thomas faced with respect to the Harklean, was not so much the

14 Though very few, such as the marginal reading at Mk. 10:47, on which see Hill 2004:109–110.

15 Boyer emphasized “making connections across the disciplines,” noting that “traditional disciplinary

categories prove confining, forcing new topologies of knowledge” (1990: 19).


“larger intellectual patterns”, as the more immediate functional problem of organizing a copious amount of complex data into a coherent textual artifact.

Integration began with Thomas’ determination to use the Philoxenian as his Syriac Grundtext. This was motivated in part by a respect for the quality of Polycarp’s work, but also in order to express solidarity with the tradition of the Syriac versions. The Philoxenian itself had been built on the Peshitta and, incidentally, was the version of one who had been Thomas’ predecessor as bishop of Mabbug. Thomas revised the Philoxenian textline only to the extent

the philological changes necessary to achieving required by the Greek textual standard, and by a ‘mirror translation’. Rejected Philoxenian readings in some instances were preserved by being placed in the Harklean margin.16 There also are readings from the Philoxenian that Thomas preserved in the Harklean textline, contrary to the consensus of his Greek copies, and which, following Alexandrian practice (as mediated by Origen), he denoted with the sign of the asterisk. Even the Harklean colophons are supplemented versions of the

scribal colophons that had been attached to the Philoxenian. Greek tradition also

received plenary acknowledgement: first, by making the Syriac textline reflect the

consensus testimony of his collated Greek copies; second by denoting with the obelus Syriac elements which do not formally render an element in the Greek; and third, by integrating variant readings in the Harklean margin, as well as other glosses and scholia that were gleaned from the Greek copies. Altogether, Thomas’ approach to integration aimed to exhibit as much critical data as was thought might prove useful to the target audience, while serving also to locate the new version within the antecedent streams of the Greek and Syriac textual traditions from which it had emerged.

The pervasiveness of tradition, in what is at the same time a work of impressive

critical acumen, highlights a significant difference between Thomas’ approach and that of modern, western scholarship, which generally lays great store by innovation and originality. It is the type of disjunction that may hinder recognizing the scholarship of the ‘other’. Here I am reminded of the peremptory manner in which J. Rendle Harris discounted the medieval Syriac commentator, Dionysius Bar Salibi.17 Rendle Harris noted that Bar Salibi had extensively appropriated the work of earlier commentators, frequently at the level of a ‘scissors and paste job’, and without what today would be called ‘due acknowledgement’. This led Rendle Harris to dismiss Bar Salibi’s contribution, in effect as little more that a form of plagiarism. Yet, when Bar Salibi’s commentaries are analyzed, it becomes apparent that he intended to encapsulate and to convey the thought of his predecessors through a process of creative redaction. For him, just as it had been for the earlier writers whose work he appropriated, the issue was one of

so interested in ‘originality’ as in the imperative of working within the received

tradition; the product of which was held as common property, and which merited

reiteration so as to adapt it for the benefit of successive generations. Accordingly, an adherence to tradition, which in Thomas’ case sometimes may appear pedantic, and in the case of Bar Salibi may look like plagiarism, when assessed within its own cultural and intellectual context, is seen actually to comprise good scholarly practice.

If academic scholarship is to be relevant to the wider social context then the

knowledge of the academy requires to be applied responsibly to consequential

16 Admittedly, as little of the Philoxenian is now extant, the evidence for its readings in the Harklean margin is not conclusive; still the probability is strong, see Hill 2003: 318–321; and Hill 2004.

17 See Gibson 1911: xxxi. Rendle Harris did later favourably revise his estimate of Bar Salibi’s work.


problems. This is the scholarship of application,18 and its location at the intersection between the interests of scholarship and those of society reflects the central concern of Scholarship Reconsidered. Boyer posed a rhetorical question: “Can social problems themselves define an agenda for scholarly investigation?” (1990: 21 original emphasis). The affirmative reply requires affording society and specific social groups a co-operative role in defining scholarly agenda. Here we add the qualification that it must work both ways. The academy ought to engage with real social concerns, while society ought to expect and support scholarship that responds not in terms of meek compliance but, as occasion demands, with a critical perspective and by postulating different paradigms and alternative approaches. Clearly, the scholarship of application should engender considerable thought about the goals of higher education, the rôle of

the academy in critical social reflection, and the ethical dimensions of scholarship.

The Harklean was scholarship applied to the palpable concerns of a community.

Thomas’ primary intent was to produce a Syriac model of the Greek text of the New Testament that would enable fellow scholars to more effectively employ the text to address a range of theological concerns, including those that had given rise to a raft of ideological and social “consequential problems”. On the criterion adduced by L. S. Shulman (cited in Nicholls 2004: 30), Thomas produced a work that was “accessible for exchange and use by other members of [his] scholarly community,” and therefore demonstrated a key characteristic of genuine scholarship.

To facilitate its application, the Harklean provided user-friendly aids. In addition to

the critical apparatus mentioned above, the margin exhibits philological glosses, in certain instances records the Greek terms rendered by the Syriac translation, and provides selected exegetical scholia preserving interpretive traditions. Also, in line with the best scribal practice, the Harklean Gospels were furnished with the Ammonian sections and the Eusebian canons so as to enable the location of parallel passages. Intriguingly, the Harklean also is rubricated throughout for liturgical reading. This continued a practice that first appears in copies of the Peshitta from the fifth century. Yet, given that the artificial style of the Harklean hardly made it well adapted for public reading, it may appear superfluous that Thomas denoted the lections for church services. However, if he is understood to have viewed application as not merely functional, but as integrating scholarship with what was intrinsic to the life of the community, then we may suspect that the rubrics serve to reinforce the connection between the Harklean and the inner life, or worship, of the church. 19 It was Boyer who formulated the idea of the scholarship of teaching: “When defined as scholarship…teaching both educates and entices future scholars” (1990: 23 original emphasis). This he links with transforming and extending knowledge, and encouraging “students to be critical, creative thinkers, with the capacity to go on learning…” (1990: 24). The definition is problematic and requires some qualification.20 However, predicating Boyer’s remarks on his discussion regarding the other domains of scholarship, his primary meaning is that teaching—i.e. the act of teaching—comprises a scholarship that overlaps with discovery, integration and application. As Bowden (2007: 4) observes, “Boyer purported teaching as a

18 Boyer 1990: 22, also connects the scholarship of application to academic service or citizenship, but with the qualification that such activities are considered scholarship when “tied directly to one’s special field of knowledge and relate to, and flow directly out of, this professional activity.”

19 As it eventuated, occasional citations from the Harklean found their way into West Syriac liturgical texts. Also there are Harklean lectionaries and a Harklean Passion Harmony (9th century).

20 Compare Andresen 2000: 137.


scholarship activity to be evaluated equally with research,” notwithstanding that

subsequently, “scholars have predominantly defined it as doing research on teaching versus prompting the actual performance.” A variety of formulations now surround the scholarship of teaching,21 but for our purpose it will suffice simply to consider the points at which Thomas’ project intersected with teaching in some form or other.

Thomas himself was the product of a system of education that worked through a set curriculum of studies. At the same time, his formal studies were set within a monastic discipline that gave greater educative weight to contemplation and spiritual formation than to systematic enquiry. He was also engaged at the practice level, for proficiency in textual criticism, then as now, is to be obtained only by performance under the tutelage of experienced practitioners. At the Enaton Thomas continued the tradition of experiential learning by directing and mentoring his project assistants. These assistants were already adept linguists. Thomas’s mentoring of them probably was directed at the finer points of expertise in collation, translation technique, and the

organization of data in the critical apparatus.

Thomas’ project was conceived with an educative purpose, variously described in the Harklean colophons as benefiting “the many who love and desire the useful accuracy of the divine books, and to know and learn,” as aiding “those who desire to teach”, and to profit them through “the reading and accurate knowledge of the true words of God.” From the outset it was intended that the results of the textual collation and the philological revision be published and circulated for the use of the target audience of scholars, teachers and students of scripture.

Publication (i.e. ‘to make known’) necessarily attends scholarship, in order to

disseminate the findings of scholars and to make those findings available for peer evaluation. Indeed, it is generally acknowledged that scholarship without publication is not scholarship but merely an esoteric pursuit. But publication also may be regarded as a species of teaching, in that it instructs by transmitting knowledge with the intent that the information conveyed be acquired and applied by others. Like teaching, publication “educates and entices”. Hence, by publishing, Thomas may be regarded as having engaged in the scholarship of teaching, to the extent that the Harklean reflects the attributes that Kreber (2005: 92) postulates, namely “practical, intellectual and critical work…that facilitates student development towards significant educational goals.” The work was validated as educational and as scholarship by scholars and students, as evidenced its currency, citation and application over many centuries.

Thomas as ‘Other’

Measured against Boyer’s model, Thomas’ undertaking is recognizably scholarship. Yet an otherness remains. In part this arises from contextual considerations. For instance, we remarked on the monastic setting of Thomas’ undertaking and the considerations that arise from that setting, such as the contemplative context, and the part played by a disciplined community in nourishing intellectual enterprise. These features are ‘other’ only to the extent that they do not manifest themselves in the same way in the modern context. As we noted, contemplative time remains essential to quality scholarship, though it now may be facilitated through time management strategies, rather than by the pattern of the monastic day. Similarly, academics communities are now constructed to facilitate collaboration and foster collegiality,

21 In effect there are three broad, and not mutually exclusive, understandings of the scholarship of

teaching: (a) teaching itself as scholarship; (b) the scholarship (disciplinary and pedagogical) that is brought to teaching by the teacher; and (c) the scholarship of researching teaching and student learning.


and occur in virtual as well as physical spaces, locally and at great distance.

Moreover, the critical integrity that Thomas exhibited, and his resoluteness in seeing through a major project despite living in exile, evidence a quality of character formed in part through an ascetic discipline. Such asceticism may seem remote from the realities of a contemporary lifestyle, but it remains customary to encounter scholars who display great personal discipline, sacrifice, and character in their endeavours.22

Perhaps the point at which the otherness of Thomas’ scholarship becomes truly

palpable is the way in which tradition, be it textual, ecclesiastical, or cultural, acts to set the boundaries and shape the product of his scholarship. The concern about tradition even may appear to align Thomas with polemical scholarship, which “promotes a particular position, specifically designed to advance a cause,” rather than with academic scholarship, “which is neutral and has no particular aim other than finding out the truth” (Nicholls 2004: 31). But the categories are themselves too blunt and the comparison insufficiently nuanced. For one thing, as we noted earlier, Thomas did evidence a remarkable degree of critical objectivity, and resisted an ideological recasting of the scriptural text. For another, scholars generally are beholden to apriori commitments, be they intellectual, institutional or cultural, while the concept of academic neutrality emerges in practice as little more than a beautiful idea. In reality, it is not Thomas’ adherence to tradition per se, but rather the otherness of the particular traditions to which he adhered that distances his scholarship from a modern perspective. Yet notwithstanding that the tradition acted to constrain Thomas

in various ways, it would be difficult to demonstrate that apart from that tradition he might have achieved a better scholarly outcome than the Harklean.

The reiteration of tradition that was earlier discussed, may suggest an intellectual

conservatism that sits ill with the not uncommon assumption that valid scholarship is predicated on “a commitment to universal skepticism” Strand (1988: 348). But to draw that conclusion would be to ignore the extent to which the accumulation of data in the Harklean actually served to extend scribal and ideological boundaries. In any case, skepticism is hardly intrinsic to scholarship. Whatever its place in contemporary epistemologies, skepticism is an anachronistic concept when applied to centuries of western scholarship, as to Thomas, and as to much non-western intellectual endeavor. What Thomas exhibits is an ability to work within tradition with a remarkable degree

of critical objectivity. Such objectivity, if it is aware both of the scholar’s own

presuppositions and of the a priori commitments imposed by a tradition, appears quite capable of supporting a valid scholarship, and probably is better suited to that end than either the chimera of neutrality or the posturing of skepticism.


Boyer’s model has facilitated a heuristic analysis of Thomas’ work, serving thereby to validate it as scholarship in contemporary, western terms. The analysis is not exhaustive, for Boyer’s model was neither intended to, nor is capable of, capturing everything that scholarship entails. While there is a degree of otherness to Thomas’ scholarship there is much—and perhaps more than might have been anticipated—that proves familiar. Thomas’ tradition is not our tradition, but we can acknowledge and engage with his subject matter, critical method and his philological and textual concerns. Similarly we can appreciate his scholarly acumen and critical integrity. Admittedly, had the case study been derived from a non-literary context, or one culturally further removed, the results may not have been so clear. However, the fact

22 Compare Boyer (1995: 134–135), and Strand (1988: 349), on character and sacrifice in scholarship.


that Boyer’s model helps us to recognize and to explicate Thomas’scholarship,

suggests that it is worth applying it to other instances, so as to access scholarship that may appear distant in terms of time, culture, or conceptualization.


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