Been There, Done That

It's probably just because I'm getting old, but there are certain topics about which I have almost no patience anymore (not that I ever had much, even when I was younger). Indeed, I find it increasingly difficult not to roll my eyes and snort whenever somebody raises them as a possible topic of research:

1. Heresy, especially Gnosticism. I don't have much patience with Catharism either. Not that I don't think actual Gnostics or Cathars were sincere or that their beliefs do not raise interesting questions about the relationship of humanity to the divine, but because more often than not they are simply stand-ins for "rebels" or "dissidents" or "the oppressed," by definition considered to be a good thing when heresy (properly understood) is not.

2. Identity, whether ethnic or otherwise, especially when proposed as more or less the only viable reason for doing historical research. Someday, somebody is going to write a brilliant historiographical study on why academic historians in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries became obsessed with identity. For the moment, it is as difficult to propose an historical problem without insisting that it will have some impact on the way in which we understand identity as it is to raise a question of pretty much anything (social, educational, medical) in the American media without justifying it as a concern by how much it will cost.

3. Synaesthesia, visualization and assorted sensory exercises, particularly as applied to the spiritual life with the implication that such exercises are somehow more "authentic" or "effective" or, at the very least, appealing (read, sexy) than more intellectual or contemplative forms. The same goes for pretty much any study of religion that includes "the body" (as if it were possible to be human without one).

4. Gender. I know, throw me out of the postmodern academy, but the longer I have spent studying medieval Christianity, the more ridiculous most modern categorizations of gender become. Perhaps this means I actually do care about gender, but what I really care about is human beings and how they relate to each other and to the divine. It has never seemed very helpful to me to begin trying to answer such a complicated question by dividing the boys from the girls and then simply assuming there is going to be a difference.

There may be others, but these are the ones that I can think of at the moment.

You have been warned!


  1. This is hilarious and I agree, but some people might add Crusades and cross-cultural interaction to that list...ha ha.


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