Academic journal article Mennonite Quarterly Review

A New Paradigm in Anabaptist/Mennonite Historiography?

Academic journal article Mennonite Quarterly Review

A New Paradigm in Anabaptist/Mennonite Historiography?

Article excerpt

Eifriger als Zwingli. Die fruhe Tauferbewegung in der Schweiz. By Andrea Strubind. Berlin: Duncker & Humblot. 2003. Pp. 617.

Andrea Strubind describes herself as a church historian and Baptist theologian linked to the historical Anabaptist tradition. She sees church history as not merely one topical area of the historical discipline but as having an intrinsic link both to history and to theology. The church historian has the task not only to describe the church as it actually was in the past but also to judge how adequately it fulfills the mandate of Jesus Christ, its founder. The church historian has the duty, as church historian, to promulgate the word of God, as found in the Bible, and, at the same time, to produce real historical knowledge, taking full advantage of theoretical and critical advances in history and the social sciences. She says the church historian has to take an ecumenical approach--which she succeeds in pretty nicely when discussing Reformed and Anabaptists; she is allergic (as am I) to Lutheran claims to exclusive possession of the "reformatorisch" and the Catholic opponents of the Reformation are really outside her purview, so hers turns out to be a qualified Protestant ecumenism, which serves the purposes of this particular study very well. She identifies with the warning of John S. Oyer that "there is a grave danger that secularism might soon erode and distort the religious core of Anabaptism as much as theologians of a previous generation have distorted historical reality" (59). Hers is a voice raised against what she sees as the secular university's tendency to define the rules of academic discourse in such a way that people of faith must confine their beliefs within a strictly private sphere if they are to obtain a hearing.

She describes the development of modern Anabaptist historiography as beginning with the religious sociology of Ernst Troeltsch early in the century, flourishing among North American Mennonites and taking a form that she describes as "the normative-typological view of Anabaptism" (22). This current dominated the field until the end of the 1950s; then after a transitional decade it was replaced in the 1970s by "the revisionist-social historical Anabaptist research" (26), which has silenced all opposing voices until the present time. Strubind's critique is directed primarily against recent historians of Anabaptism, virtually all of whom come under attack at one place or another in her book; but she is clear that she has no ambition to achieve a full return to the "naive" older view of Anabaptism. She seems to see herself as the herald of a third wave of Anabaptist historiography, which returns the topic to its proper place in church history, without surrendering the critical and contextual insights of the intervening generation. The three generations, as she portrays them, have a sort of dialectical relation to each other.

The major weakness of the study is its unending historiographical polemic against virtually all recent research in the field. No one is spared, not even historians explicitly sympathetic to Anabaptist-Mennonite theology like Kenneth Davis, Arnold Snyder and Walter Klaassen. In some respects this approach displays a refreshing frankness about weaknesses of scholarship and questionable interpretations; but it is hard to take seriously the coherence of Strubind's historiographical target--the "revisionist-social historical research" on Anabaptism. This dominant paradigm supposedly reduces all theological or religious expressions to their "real" social causes; and for Strubind social causation is narrowly construed as political or economic causation. "In social history interpretations the religious element is only the concealment of the 'real' motive, the discovery of which is the task of the social historian" (394). No self-respecting Marxist historian would recognize herself in this description, not to speak of the non-Marxist theologians and historians lumped together as "revisionist-social history" scholars. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.