A powerful and original argument that the practice of scholarship is grounded in the concept of radical freedom, beginning with the freedoms of inquiry, thought, and expression.
Why are scholars and scholarship invariably distrusted and attacked by authoritarian regimes? Geoffrey Galt Harpham argues that at its core, scholarship is informed by an emancipatory agenda based on a permanent openness to the new, an unlimited responsiveness to evidence, and a commitment to conversion. At the same time, however, scholarship involves its own forms of authority. As a worldly practice, it is a struggle for dominance without end as scholars try to disprove the claims of others, establish new versions of the truth, and seek disciples.
Scholarship and Freedom threads its general arguments through examinations of the careers of three scholars: W. E. B. Du Bois, who serves as an example of scholarly character formation; South African Bernard Lategan, whose New Testament studies became entangled on both sides of his country’s battles over apartheid; and Linda Nochlin, whose essay “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” virtually created the field of feminist art history.
Geoffrey Harpham outflanks those who believe that scholarship must resist political engagement and those who believe that politics cannot be avoided by scholars who live and work in the real world. Harpham argues persuasively that the scholar’s devotion to truth is itself a potent political act because it has the power to ‘clear the ground for a better set of arrangements based on truth.’ In short, the purer scholarship is, the more politically useful it will be. A bold and welcome thesis.
An extraordinary paean to scholarship as an embattled Enlightenment ideal and as a practice devoted to the pursuit of reliable truths about human affairs, wherever that pursuit may lead. Harpham’s surprising argument is that scholarship inevitably leads to freedom—that independent thinking challenges calcified orthodoxies. His exempla, W. E. B. Du Bois, Bernard Lategan, and Linda Nochlin, give us ample reason to believe. A bracing book for dark times.
A distinctive and powerful book. A sharp introduction, three well-wrought case studies, and an eloquent conclusion offer the reader a brilliant, polemical account of why scholarship in the humanities and social sciences still matters.
- 208 pages
- Harvard University Press
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