Typology as Historical Method: The Forgotten Historiography

AHA Session 131
Saturday, January 7, 2012: 9:00 AM-11:00 AM
Indiana Room (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Kenneth R. Mills, University of Toronto
Typology in the Book of Mormon Narrative
Joe Spencer, University of New Mexico
The Typological Universe of the Spanish Hapsburgs
Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra, University of Texas at Austin

Session Abstract

            To contemporary Christians, both liberal and conservative, Hebrews 10:1 and verses like it are not crucial texts for elucidating human history. Modern Christians do not practice what has come to be known as “typology” as a means of structuring human action in time. But, by Late Antiquity, exemplified in the Augustinian corpus, what may have begun as an exercise in apologetics to justify Christians’ non-compliance with Levitical ordinances had become the primary Christian historiographic tradition. Erich Auerbach, Henri de Lubac and others have produced a rich literature on typology (the resemblance between Biblical and non-Biblical historical episodes) as the primary medieval method of ordering the past. Even so, many have been left with the false impression that typology was practiced as a kind of hindsight apologetics to aggrandize the career of a medieval personage or to justify otherwise problematic actions in the present. Yet it appears that typology was not merely practiced apologetically but analytically, as a means of making historical knowledge.

            Importantly, historical typology did not end with the Middle Ages but experienced an early modern resurgence, aiding Europeans in comprehending the New Worlds of their Asian and American peripheries. During this period, extraordinary hermeneutical creativity was displayed, especially in Iberian imperial thought, in ordering a vast hierarchical system encompassing the political economy of human bodies and souls on both heaven and earth. And typology remains with us in the present, with its adoption as a dominant mode of reasoning in Mormon history, coexisting with mainstream text-critical methodologies and peer review processes.

This panel will explore typology from its roots in pre-Christian Stoic exegesis to its contemporary practice at Brigham Young University by way of, among others, the Venerable Bede’s proto-national histories, Joachim of Fiore’s world-ordering Franciscan intellectualism and images and narratives of conversion in the seventeenth-century Andes. These engagements, together, will help to adumbrate typology’s contributions to the development of historical thought and its ongoing practice.

            Kenneth Mills will chair and contribute his work on the Indies as an apostolic evangelization setting in the Iberian colonial imagination as reflected in visual and literary engagements with typology; Stuart Parker, will present on the independent generation of typological thought in twentieth-century Mormonism; and Jorge Cañizares-Esguera will speak to the centrality of and the highly creative approach to the prophetic books of the Old Testament in Spanish Hapsburg state theory. Dr. Cañizares, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, is the pre-eminent historian of ideas of the sixteenth- through nineteenth-century Hispanic world with such recent publications as Nature, Empire and Nation (2006). Dr. Mills, currently serving as chair of the University of Toronto’s History Department, is a world-renowned authority on processes of conversion in the early modern Hispanic periphery and is author of Idolatry and Its Enemies (1997) and editor of several collected volumes. Dr. Parker is a postdoctoral fellow with the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Classicists and medievalists are being approached to contribute papers on pre-Christian Stoic typology and medieval Christian historical thought.

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