The observation has been made that “history students seem to retain a religious affiliation more often than those in other disciplines” (Dexter Perkins and John Snell, The Education of Historians in the United States, p. 44). Whatever the reasons for this, the student of history, by retaining such affiliation in a secularistic society, runs the risk of having his objectivity as a scholar questioned. Already there has been much discussion of the problem of religious commitment and historical writing. It is a problem which bears further examination, however, not only because it relates to a significant number of historians, but because the entire Western historiographical tradition is entering a crucial phase. Thus the question may be asked, What is the role of the Christian historian in this new phase? To answer this we must know something about the nature of the new phase.
A historical epoch is ending, an epoch which has been called “The Age of Vasco da Gama”—not because Vasco da Gama himself possessed such extraordinary significance, but because he symbolizes the most important feature of the age. Although there is no denying the variety and the splendor of “non-Western” civilizations in the past half-millennium, it is still true that this period has been one in which the Western world, having seized the initiative in making contacts beyond the limits of its own center, has expanded its horizons to encompass the entire world—at the height of its power subordinating much of that world. Through that contact and subordination the West has profoundly influenced all societies and cultures, but the “end of empire” is introducing a new phase of contact.
The Western world has experienced an internal crisis, while the peoples of the ...1
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