Material limits

January 16, 2014

In her review of Robert Bartlett’s Why Can the Dead Do Such Great Things?, a study of the Christian cult of saints from the martyrs to the Reformation (Books, 19/26 December), Helen Fulton helpfully suggests a limitation of the book when she writes that “the evidence-based methodology constructs a tenor of strict objectivity deliberately stripped of analysis or interpretation”. In supplying an example that tells us something about “the why of saints and the powers claimed for them”, she points to “the profit motive that lay behind the trade in relics”. She tacitly restricts answers to the “why” to the realm of the non-transcendent, in this way extending a central assumption of scientific methodology. In declaring allegiance to the openness of analysis, she nonetheless seems to accept a totalising limit on what the source and nature of interpretation might be.

Norman Klassen
St Jerome’s University in the University of Waterloo
Canada

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