History and Interpretation

Matthew J. Milliner has a great article in the most recent Comment Magazine issue on Armenian Christian art. After describing the diversity and distinctive aspects of Armenia’s Christian history through its art, he ends with this observation:

We tend to selectively read Christian history to confirm our suspicions, but a Christianity inspired by Armenia would not fit into expected “Roman Catholic,” “Eastern Orthodox,” or “evangelical” silos any more than Armenia itself can.

These kinds of arguments always make me uncomfortable: partly because I worry that I’m always making this mistake, and partly because I don’t know how to effectively avoid making that mistake. Doing history well–i.e., telling the narrative of historical events–seems to be a constant battle between opposite extremes: 1) fitting historical events into a monolithic narrative, and 2) interpreting history merely as a series of disconnected unique events. Both extremes result in a variety of symptoms–racism, ideological determinism, ignorance, naivete, partial truths, etc. etc.

Is it possible to strike a balance? Probably, but I’m not sure what it would look like. Maybe it’s just an unending act of re-interpretation and revision of the narrative…but that comes with it’s own pitfalls as well.

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