Nederlandse Onderzoekschool voor Theologie en Religiewetenschap
Netherlands School for Advanced Studies in Theology and Religion

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Home / Canon Commentary Heritage

Canon Commentary Heritage

Looptijd: 2015-2017
Coördinatoren: prof.dr. J.W. van Henten (UvA) en prof.dr. L.J. Lietaert Peerbolte (VU)

International Expert Meeting: 8 – 9 December 2016, Amsterdam

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Project description
Several literary works transmitted to us acquired a canonical status. Some of these writings belong to an official religious canon, like the Bible or the Quran. They received a normative status by an institutionalized religious group at a certain moment in history, although it is not always clear when exactly this happened (Schäfer 1978; Metzger 1987; Haran 1996; Leaman 2006). “Canon” can also be taken in a wider meaning as a network of intensely mediated texts, which function as a source of forms, ideas and values for certain groups (Bekkenkamp 1993: 38). That implies that Classical Greek or Roman literature, world classics like Thousand and One Nights and Dante’s Divina Comedia but also several more recent novels should be considered to be canonical literature as well. The canonical status of these works implies a stabilizing process that confirms that these writings are–obviously for various reasons–valuable for the community in which they function (Herrnstein ! Smith 1983). They often have a great cultural significance because they are part of the collective memory of a society (Halbwachs 1925; 1941; 1968; J. Assmann 1992; A. Assmann, 2011). Canons also have a normative significance because they involve values “both in what they preserve and in the principles of preserving” (Altieri 1983: 51). Because of the ongoing process of re-interpretation and actualization within the networks within they are being mediated, segments of canonical texts function as a source of inspiration and a basis for common values and concerns. They contribute in this way to what is called intangible heritage (cf. van Henten 2014). The continuous actualization of canonical writings is a springboard for the reformulation of identities (Eril & Nünning 2008) and the process that leads to adaptations and re-adaptations represents various ways of engaging audiences (Hutcheon 2008). The writings form a dynamic reservoir of images, archetypes, conventions an! d models that help to inspire new writings and other forms of expression (e.g. Castelli 2004; Lerm Hayes 2004). The ongoing re-interpretations express at the same time a selective reading process: characteristics that appear to be alienating are pushed into the background, and traits that seem meaningful are being incorporated in current outlooks on life.

The craft of writing commentaries (cf. Clines, forthcoming) exists since antiquity and its importance can hardly be over-estimated. Commentaries not only contribute significantly to the selection process that determines which writings become canonical, but they also play a crucial role in the transmission and re-interpretation of these writings, the construction of identities that goes with this re-interpretation, as well as the creation of new works that may also become canonical (Jansen 1994). Commentaries are, for example, closely connected with editions of primary texts and play an important role in the establishment of the texts that became canonical (Grafton 2010; Rock 2010). Commentaries on “classics”, whether ancient works, religious writings or authors from the early modern period onward, often function as a database for school books in later times, which reconfirms their canonical status (Grafton 2010: 228). Although the cultural impact of commentaries is appar! ently huge, their function within society at large has so far hardly been studied. Among academics writing commentaries still remains a highly individual craft, and its articulations and impact on cultural heritage is not much reflected upon. Only recently, commentaries start to go beyond in-depth discussions of writings in their original language and the possible meanings for the readers in their assumed original contexts, moving on to illuminate the texts from a wider perspective, including their reception in literature and other cultural expressions (see, e.g., Allison, Helmer, Seow, Spieckermann, Walfish and Ziolkowski, 2009-). These observations lead to the following research questions:

1) In which ways can we determine more precisely the impact of commentaries of canonical writings in connection to (immaterial) heritage? Which case studies come to mind in order to analyze this impact?
2) What is the role of commentators if we focus upon the impact of commentaries on heritage? How do their re-interpretations contribute to the past becoming heritage and the dynamic process of selecting and ignoring or downplaying specific pasts?
3) How should we envisage future commentaries and the research related to them? Is there something like “the ideal commentary”? If so, what should it entail? Should it include aspects of the reception and the re-interpretation of the text through the centuries and the identity constructions that go hand in hand with the re-interpretations in various contexts?

Bijeenkomst 12 maart 2015:
Verslag RCG Canon Commentary Heritage, maart 2015

Update augustus 2016:
Verslag RCG Canon Commentary Heritage, augustus 2016