The Challenge of the “Occasion” – On How One May “Work”

by George Anastaplo

(Preliminary Statement, Author Event, Seminary Cooperative Bookstore – May 13, 2010)

I have been asked to say something about how I try to work as a scholar.  My book, The Christian Heritage: Problems and Prospects, builds upon my collection in a 2001 issue of the Brandeis Law Journal.  This article (in volume 40, at pages 191-533 of the Journal) was entitled “Law & Literature and the Christian Heritage.”

That 2001 law review collection drew on more than two dozen “things” that had been originally prepared by me ever since 1956.  When the opportunity developed for preparing those 2001 materials for a 2010 publication in book form (with its twelve hundred notes somewhat brought up to date), I was able to add as appendices for the volume a dozen more not-unrelated things prepared by me during the past decade.  Thus, I would have added, if not already used, an essay on Islam included as a chapter, in my volume, But Not Philosophy:  Seven Introductions to Non-Western Thought (2002 ).  That essay inquires into how religious movements drew on their predecessors: originality in these matters seems to be hard to come by, at least on a comprehensive scale.

The first of my Christian Heritage appendices records one of a dozen conversations I had in 2000 with a Shoah (or Holocaust) survivor (a distinguished mathematician who had grown up in Lithuania).  Publishers are understandably reluctant, these days, to add still more Holocaust-related materials to their lists, no matter how “special” an author might (not unnaturally) believe his contribution to be (in this case, partly because the survivor has to deal again and again, with what he regards as the persistent questions of a naïve American).  And so I am publishing these conversations seriatim, appending them one by one (when relevant) to other things of mine.  (One-fourth of them have already been published this way—and who can know because of this, what might be done with all of them together long after all of us are gone?  One of the conversations is being published, in translation, in a Spanish journal.)

This Christian Heritage volume is testimony to my not liking to repeat myself when I am invited to prepare something for an audience.  Thus, I am reluctant simply to read something in any book of mine on such an occasion as this, especially since what is published is apt to be “fixed.”  That is, I cannot afford to waste any opportunity to think further about questions that challenge me.  Such an opportunity need not depend, of course, on the size of the audience on any particular occasion.

There are, because of the way I “work,” always several volumes that I am in the course of completing—and so what I prepare on such an occasion as this can usually be developed with the expectation of its eventually being useful in print somewhere.  On this occasion, of course, I would be glad to try to answer questions about things in my Christian Heritage book But it should be useful, in introducing this volume, to make some suggestions about how the Christian heritage can be drawn on in an effort to understand what happens among us in this country.  Thus, I am challenged, on this occasion, to see how that heritage may be seen in the career of Abraham Lincoln, and for this purpose I have prepared remarks entitled “Golgotha on the Potomac.”  (Lincoln himself is drawn on in a half-dozen places in my Christian Heritage volume.)

These “Golgotha on the Potomac” remarks, I can add, should be the concluding essay in a volume, otherwise already prepared, in which there are to be collected thirty-nine discussions related to the career of Abraham Lincoln.  My first volume on Abraham Lincoln, published in 1990, was entitled by its publisher, Abraham Lincoln:  A Constitutional Biography.  (My preferred title for that volume is Thoughts on Abraham Lincoln:  A Discourse on Prudence.) My preferred title for a second Lincoln volume (nearing completion) is Further Thoughts on Abraham Lincoln: A Discourse on Chance and the Good.

I can add, as well, that routinely having at least a half-dozen volumes in view can seem to reduce, if it cannot altogether eliminate, the effects of unsettling chance in one’s scholarly career.  That is, there can usually be found a place for whatever one may be privileged to “work” on from time to time, often in response  to such an invitation as brings me here on this occasion.

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