Saturday, 19 May 2007

Schleiermacher, textbooks and oral tradition

In his charming little book On the Glaubenslehre: Two Letters to Dr Lücke (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1981), Schleiermacher makes a humorous observation about textbooks (p. 75): “Not only must we always take care that there is enough room to shelve these printed pages, but in my opinion it is important that our students have books that they can carry around comfortably…. Moreover, in our universities there is a great deal of oral tradition about both the teachers and the texts, and it seems to have quite an influence on our beginning students.”

I love this tongue-in-cheek reference to “oral tradition.” And he’s right, too: when you talk with first-year students in a theological faculty or seminary, it’s often very striking to see that they have already formed crystal-clear opinions about which books and authors are important or unimportant, which teachers should be taken seriously, which ideas are childish and naïve, and so on.

It would be interesting to know something about the sociology of all this. What is the precise nature and function of such oral traditions in academic institutions? How formative is the role of oral tradition in the development of students’ education?

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