History and Belief: The Foundations of Historical Understanding.
By Robert Eric Frykenberg. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1996. Pp. 377. Paperback $27.
This book offers a learned meditation on the nature, limits, and possibilities of historical knowledge. The author is professor of history and South Asian studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Its "central question" is "exactly how ideology, or religion ina broad sense, has served to inform the historiography of each major civilization" (p. 2). It approaches this question through a series of chapters that link aspects of historical understanding with historiographical discussion, for example, the possibility of redemption in human history with the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures. Frykenberg best captures the dynamic of history-writing by combining a stalwart belief in the possibility of knowledge about the past with careful diffidence about the limits of such knowledge.
The highlight of the book is its treatments of Indian history, historical writing about India, and Indian consciousness about the past. Frykenberg's lifetime of attention to the Indian subcontinent pays rich dividends, for instance, when he shows how …