“The Path of the Humanities Researcher”
By Vivien Law
This article is based on a talk given at the Michaelmas meeting of the School of Spiritual Science, September 2000. It subsequently appeared in the 2002 Annual of the Literary Arts and Humanities (Goetheanum Press).
EVERY PROFESSION, NO MATTER HOW HUMBLE, IS A PATH OF INNER DEVELOPMENT; every profession offers the possibility of working consciously with the spiritual world. Yet when we choose a profession and undergo training, we are usually unaware of this possibility. Often, we fall into a profession, led there by destiny disguised as family tradition, an enthusiastic teacher, a chance encounter, or perhaps a fateful meeting with illness or war or poverty. The training is experienced as something inevitable, generally without much reflection upon the processes involved, for the content to be mastered places constant demands upon us. And when we embark upon our career, the engrossing tasks of finding our feet, making our mark, and coping with our growing responsibilities keep us fully absorbed. We rush from deadline to deadline, trying our best to carry out our duties and satisfy the multiplying demands of the world, stopping all too seldom to ask what it is that we are doing and how we do it. Yet for the Humanities researcher, every research project is an opportunity to re-traverse that original path of training, an opportunity to experience the possibilities, and also the challenges, of each step along the way. It invites us to reflect upon our training, upon what we bring with us from the past, but also upon what is striving to come towards us from the future.
Let us survey the steps entailed in carrying out a research project in the Humanities (and indeed in other disciplines as well). Naturally they do not always come in this order, nor one at a time, particularly for the experienced researcher.
1. Generally we begin by assimilating tradition, learning what is already known about our chosen area. We immerse ourselves in the secondary literature: what do the authorities say? What is known and what is still a question?
2. Then, or perhaps concurrently, we observe our subject matter — texts and documents. We learn to contemplate them, to assimilate them, to open ourselves to them in such a way that they have a chance to speak to us. This stage looks both back and forwards. As long as we are seeking evidence to corroborate what we have learnt, we are in the backward-looking phase; but when we arrive at the point where we are open to the unexpected, then something new can happen — can, as it were, come in from the future. Am I actually so open that I can see something no one has noticed before? Or am I blocking the unexpected with my expectations?
3. Questioning, the third step, also has a backward-looking and a forward-looking aspect. Many questions come straight from habits of thinking developed generations ago. In this mode I may ask: “When was this text written? Where? What sources did its author draw upon?” Such basic matters, the stuff of Literaturgeschichte and Quellenforschung as they took shape in the latter part of the nineteenth century, have the potential to be a foundation for the future-oriented questions, questions that will take our thinking along new paths — but only if we leave ourselves open to them. This crucial stage takes us from talking, setting the agenda, to listening: can I hear what questions are ready to be asked now? Or am I going to block their way with a plethora of old questions? These three stages are a form of preparation. In traversing them as conscientiously as may be, I undertake to bring together in myself forms of knowledge from the past with my present skills and faculties, notably observation and analytical skills. At this point I have a choice: to plunge in, using my experience of similar problems in the past to arrive at the obvious answer, one which will resemble other answers from the past; or to pause and wait.
4. This is the all-important fourth step, the stage at which I offer up the problem. I set it upon the Threshold of the spiritual world and wait. Together with the problem I offer myself as researcher, as a vessel prepared to the utmost of my ability to take on this problem; but at the same time, I leave open the possibility that it might not be for me. Despite my preparation I am prepared to renounce it if it is not, after all, meant for me.
5. And so I wait — not necessarily for long, perhaps just for the night of ‘sleeping on it’ beloved of the traditional British academic, or perhaps for that longer period of leaving something to ‘ripen in the bottom drawer’, another familiar experience (albeit one that is becoming ever harder to achieve in this day of importunate deadlines). Whether or not I actually spend much time thinking about the problem during this phase — it is usually better not to — work is continuing at a level which has little to do with my conscious powers of reasoning and analysis.
Sooner or later, anywhere between days and years later, I see the key. It is as likely to come while explaining something to a student or having a chat with a colleague in another field as when I am sitting quietly at my desk — more so, in fact, for the more I belabor the problem, the less likely it is to reveal its secrets. And then I contemplate it with new eyes. How does it look now, in the light of the new insight, when I think back to the questions that I asked about it? Perhaps the original questions were on completely the wrong track and I need to think along quite different lines. How does the problem look now in relation to my original observations? Do I need to return to my texts with new questions in mind to direct a further series of observations? And how does the problem look now in relation to what I learnt from Authority? Perhaps the entire Problemkreis needs to be rethought. More likely the ramifications will not be so drastic, but you can be sure that things won’t look quite the same as they did before.
6. It may well be that I will find it necessary to carry out these steps more than once while working on a single problem. A new vista opened up by a chance conversation with a colleague or a passing sentence In a book may show me that I need to learn about some area which has so far been terra incognita — linguistic anthropology, Renaissance anatomy, patristic theology, maybe — which will necessitate a return to the start of the process, to the stages of grappling with tradition, and with observation of the sources, and with listening for appropriate questions, as a preparation for returning to the Threshold with the problem, this time differently equipped. Indeed, whenever we come across something in our research which suggests a change of direction, however minor, we recapitulate some or all of these stages.
7. Up to this point the problem is my concern. It is a matter that rests between me and the spiritual world, from which I draw guidance and sustenance for my work. But one day I know that the problem is ready — ready to go out into the world. I feel that I ‘have permission’, so to speak, to present it to others. But in what form? At this point I face a new challenge, that of finding the appropriate earthly form in which to clothe the ideas that have come to me. In most cases in Humanities research the substance is given: words. How to choose and arrange those words is another question, one where our human status as spiritual beings clothed in matter gives us special possibilities and responsibilities. At that point the whole process — preparation, offering up the problem and oneself at the Threshold, and opening oneself to inspiration — begins again (and the question of what constitutes appropriate form for the words that clothe, carry, and shape our ideas is one of particular concern to our Section).
To recapitulate, important steps in the research process are these:
• Assimilation of tradition
• Placing the problem at the Threshold
• Recapitulation of the first three stages
• Giving appropriate form to the ideas.
It is easy to see in the preparatory stages a recapitulation of the stages that western intellectual history has traversed. The assimilation of tradition, the form of the voluminous body of doctrine inherited from classical Antiquity and Judeo-Christian teaching, occupied Europe for the thousand years of the Middle Ages. During the Northern Renaissance the faculty of observation, previously undervalued and relatively little developed was deployed initially to corroborate tradition, but gradually to cast doubt upon it, and with the rise of doubt came questioning – bringing questions and points of focus out of oneself around which to shape one’s perception of the data, potentially to the exclusion of what is waiting to emerge from it. To take one representative case, medieval Christians knew from their reading of Augustine (De civ. Dei) and Isidore of Seville (Etymologiae IX i 1) that Hebrew was the original language, the mother of all other languages. When at the Renaissance, Hebrew became accessible to Christians in western Europe (the publication of the first grammar of Hebrew to be written in Latin, Johannes Reuchlin’s De rudimentis hebraicis , and its successors, greatly facilitated the process), scholars looked eagerly for evidence of Hebrew’s special status. Comparing it with Greek and Latin, they noticed simplicity and economy — short sentences, a relatively restricted vocabulary, a preponderance of apparently monosyllabic words (this was a misapprehension) — and a striking match of word to reality, in that the names of Old Testament patriarchs could all be interpreted through Hebrew in a way which reflected the essence of their being or activity. Adam, for instance, meant ‘human being’ or ‘earthly’ or ‘inhabitant’ or ‘red earth’, according to St Jerome’s widely read Interpretationes hebraicorum nominum. In the latter part of the sixteenth century, however, the Hebraist and antiquary Johannes Goropius Becanus observed that these same features were to be found in his native Flemish, right down to the meaningful etymologies: Adam he connected with hat ‘hatred’ and dam ‘dam’, implying that Adam was a barrier to the hatred of the serpent— and so on through a great range of Hebrew names. His conclusion, that Flemish rather than Hebrew must therefore be the original language, went too far for his contemporaries; but they did not fail to notice that the arguments hitherto used to affirm the status of Hebrew were severely shaken by his reasoning. In due course it was accepted that Hebrew was a language like any other, subject to the same processes of change as all other earthly phenomena.
But that led to a new question: if Hebrew was not the original language, what was? Seventeenth- and eighteenth-century scholars under the spell of patriotism or antiquarianism dedicated themselves to the search for the original language of mankind — Gothic? Welsh? Chinese? — and to the study of attested processes of language change, a quest which eventually led to the founding of Indo-European philology in the early nineteenth century, and out of it grew modern historical linguistics.
We traverse a rather similar path of preparation in the education which prepares us for research. As children we are introduced to the knowledge assembled by the past and are gradually encouraged to corroborate it through observation (“on this page you will see how . . . “). As undergraduates we are trained to ask questions of the backward-looking type. Only as postgraduates are we normally encouraged to unfold the ability to see what we are not expecting and to make room for unplanned questions. Many students are reluctant to make this transition, for it means breaking away from the traditional supports and learning to carry out the activity we call ‘thinking for oneself’. Perhaps this term is itself the sticking-point: seen in relation to what comes from the past, it is accurate enough, but in relation to what is striving to come in from the future it distorts the picture. Many researchers have had the experience of feeling that there is an idea hovering just above them, trying to break through into thought, just as mothers-to-be sometimes sense that the child is hovering around them. The idea is no more my personal creation than the child is. Much depends for its safe arrival upon the extent to which I have prepared myself appropriately — and the preparation which permits the most to happen is that which provides a balance between earthly knowledge and space for the workings of the spiritual world.
Opening oneself in this way brings with it, or should bring, a heightened sense of responsibility. Once I begin to work consciously with the spiritual world, in however small a way, the process of choosing a research project is no longer the same. No longer can I take up a subject “because it’s there”, or because it follows on from the last thing I did, or because it would make a quick and easy article. Now I feel impelled to ask myself where the desire to research this subject comes from. Does the impetus come from my lower self, driven by ambition, the desire to be recognized, old habits, a love of ease? Or have I truly listened in order to discover what is needed? Little by little, I learn to transform my question from “What can the spiritual world reveal to me about this subject?” to “What (if anything) does the spiritual world want to reveal through me?”
Perhaps some biographical work is called for in order to gain a sense of what it might be that I am uniquely prepared to do. Of course, if I am at a crisis point in my life, I may find that I am being called to take on something I feel uniquely unqualified to do! Each step in the research process has its pitfalls, its Scylla and Charybdis of excess and omission. At the first stage, excessive dependence upon authority breeds a kind of pedantry which rejects both what can be achieved by human reason assisted by sense observation, and the insights the spiritual world is waiting to offer. On the other hand, to skip this stage and proceed directly to what one can learn through one’s own faculties and through spiritual insight is a rejection of the observations and insights laboriously brought into the world by earlier generations. In blunt terms, if I haven’t read the literature in my chosen area, why should I expect anyone else to bother to read what I write? If we attempt to pass over the stage of observation, basing ourselves solely on what others have written, or on our own speculation, we lose touch with reality. What do the texts which are our sources, the firm ground of the Humanities researcher, actually say? There is no substitute for firsthand knowledge of the sources, renewed as frequently as may be. But here too it is possible to get stuck, mired down in an endless morass of detail. Everyone has dreary memories of conference papers by young and not-so-young scholars who want to tell the world every little point they have observed in some seventeenth-century Bavarian grammar of English (or whatever it may be). Without asking questions about the text — not least “What is so significant about this work that others can be asked to give up an hour of their lives to hear about it?” — we drown in the details and drag others down with us — another form of pedantry. A kind of observation that is precise and focused but which at the same time leaves space for us to notice the unexpected — that is what we are striving for.
To work without questions is almost a denial of the researcher’s task; and yet here too, too many can be as bad as too few. If I approach my material with endless questions, I can finish up with a screen of questions and assumptions coming between me and the data. If on the other hand I gaze at my text blankly, I am likely to drown in it, to fall asleep! So, I need to find a way of asking the right questions: questions from the past at the outset, to establish a foundation for my work; then space for the text itself to speak, as it were, to suggest questions to me (and at this point “Why?” questions can uncover all kinds of mysteries); and new questions, unscripted questions.
In connection with the stage of placing myself and the problem at the Threshold many aberrations are possible. I may hold back from doing so out of arrogance — “I can solve this myself” — or out of misplaced humility and self-effacement — “I don’t deserve to ask for this kind of help”. Both attitudes can involve a kind of inner laziness, a reluctance to make the effort that inner work entails. But arrogance can also arise if one does make the effort, in the form of the egotistical satisfaction of believing that my work must be better than other people’s if I am receiving spiritual help. Let’s not delude ourselves: countless generations of researchers have received help from the spiritual world, more or less consciously. What matters for our time is that we learn to ask for it in full consciousness.
Waiting can be easy, so fatally easy that I never get around to completing the project. That bottom drawer fills up with one thing after another as I flail around starting a whole series of new projects. Remaining aware of previous projects in such a way that I am sensitive to the call from one or another when it is ready to be worked upon again is the challenge. By the same token, impatience is an equal danger — pressing on to “solve” a problem when I can feel that the time is not ripe leads us into saying things that we regret later.
Recapitulation of the three preparatory stages can become an endless cycle of yet more reading, yet more observation, and uncontrolled questioning. Checking and questioning can become additive. There will always be more to read and always more questions to answer. Can I develop a sense for when it is right to stop? And likewise, can I use that same form of spiritual tact to sense when it is right to begin the cycle again?
As for finding the right form for what the spiritual world is trying to send into the world through me, that is a process which brings me back to my starting-point. It too, if undertaken with sufficient consciousness, involves all of these steps — the study of previous ways of presenting ideas, observation of the ideas themselves and the forms they appear to be seeking, questioning, approaching the Threshold and waiting, and, once inspiration has come, the recapitulation of the process. But, as any experienced researcher knows, seeking the right form is a process which takes place at the same time as one works with the ideas; the form grows out of the ideas, coming into shape as the ideas take shape. And yet that is not to say that there is only one possible form. The relationship between form and idea is a complex one, and a central research question for the Humanities Section.
What of the positive qualities that following the path of Humanities research can help to develop? If we enter into the preparatory stages rightly, we can develop love and respect both for what is actually there, for the documents and tools with which we work, and also for those earlier scholars and the qualities of devotion and careful observation that they brought to them. Tackling a problem may require considerable courage: perhaps I know that taking it on will require a huge effort, necessitating a large amount of reading in unfamiliar areas, or minute and painstaking observational work of a kind which I may not find congenial. I will need to find courage, too, to dedicate myself to a problem which is currently out of fashion, or customarily researched and thought about in a quite different manner. Presenting my work to others calls for courage: how will it be received? And together with courage I shall need to find large quantities of perseverance. The outcome of any worthwhile piece of research is uncertain, and there may well be points along the way when I feel tempted to abandon the project. Neither the spiritual world nor the material world are going to reveal all their secrets at once: patience and a sensitivity to the moment are essential. Cultivating that attentiveness to what is right in the moment in our research can help us to acquire a kind of spiritual tact which is as applicable to dealings with other human beings as it is to research. Growing out of the attempt to work consciously with spiritual beings comes humility. Increasingly, I feel that the ideas aren’t mine, or only in a very limited sense. They come to me if I am an appropriate conduit, prepared to the best of my ability and ready to sacrifice my own preconceived notions and desire for an easy time of it. Lastly, through my love for the ideas, and also for the people to whom they are to go out, I learn to show warmth and enthusiasm through which others may be inspired to create a relationship to these ideas and their source. And that, above all, is where our path is leading. As Humanities researchers we seek to understand human activities and human creations, to glimpse what the spiritual is seeking to bring to birth in the world through human beings, and to fire others with a desire to take this forward responsibly. Awakening others is a large part of our work — and to do it, we must first travel our own path of development, the path of the Humanities researcher.
“Does the Work of Our Section Really Matter?”
By Vivien Law
This article appeared in the 2002 Annual of the Literary Arts and Humanities (Goetheanum Press). This PDF reprint appears in 2022 as study material for friends and members of the Section for Literary Arts and Humanities of the School for Spiritual Science in North America.
IN COMPARISON WITH THE WORK OF THE MEDICAL AND PEDAGOGICAL SECTIONS, it is all too easy to see the tasks of the Section for the Literary Arts and Humanities as modest, even unimportant. In the context of real life does it actually matter that we write in a more appropriate style or understand the course of human evolution better? Doubts of this kind as to the significance of the tasks of our Section can lead, indeed have recently led, to doubt as to whether the Section has a right or a need to exist. Doubt leads on to despair, despair ultimately to suicide. How can we extract ourselves from the slippery descent into despair, denial and powerlessness that threatens many Humanities researchers?
Consider this verse by Rudolf Steiner:
Dwelling in silence on the beauties of life
Gives the soul strength of feeling.
Thinking clearly on the truths of existence
Brings to the spirit the light of will.
If we regard aesthetics as the chief task of the Section, then it would appear to be mainly the first verse that applies to us, linking beauty and feeling. But is the connection made in the second verse, truth, and the will, which leads to moral action, also relevant to us? Let’s take an example.
Toward the end of the year 2000 it was revealed that in the course of a 24-year career as a family doctor Harold Shipman, from Britain, had murdered at least 236 of his patients. A psychologist quoted in The Times stated that more and more such cases are to be anticipated because of today’s world outlook. If we regard ourselves as no more than physical bodies in a society which is growing ever more materialistic, he added, people are going to appear who believe that they are dealing not with fellow beings but only with things. To that one could add that there are already children growing up amongst us who have no perceptible sense of good and evil.
Although these might seem to be issues for the Pedagogical Section, our Section does have a significant contribution to make. These things are happening because throughout the western world very many people have ceased to be aware that human beings consist of more than just a body. How do we come to recognize the non-physical compound — the soul-spiritual part — of the human being? In the first place, we can work with individual people in such a way that they begin to see meaning in the course of their lives. Biographical Counselling and other psychological approaches such as Transpersonal Psychology can help here. A second major step is to promote recognition and knowledge of one’s prebirth intentions. The American psychotherapist James Hillman gives a beautiful description in his best selling book, The Soul’s Code, of how we all carry a “kernel” (he calls it the ‘acorn’) in us from birth on of what we will go on to do in life. Often this “kernel” pushes with such force that it becomes visible even in a very young child. That leaves open a big question: where does the “kernel” come from? At this point Hillman falls silent. No matter. It takes a lot of courage to go as far as he did, showing how we are not merely formed from the various pressures of nature and nurture, but bring our own intentions with us into life.
To go further, recognition of reincarnation is essential. This recognition is by no means as uncommon as we tend to imagine. Half the population of Britain today is said to believe in it. Now, ‘believing’ nowadays tends to mean that one holds to something vague, unprovable and not susceptible to investigation — hardly something congenial to our present-day way of thinking. However, with the great increase in the number of people in western Europe who practice meditation on a serious basis, there is a strong likelihood that karma research will be taken more seriously. For that, though, one needs appropriate preparation. From the case studies in Steiner’s Karmic Relationships (GA 23 5—40) it is apparent that a good knowledge of the main outlines of European and in some instances extra-European history is absolutely vital. But it is just that that is currently lacking.
For the last couple of generations it has been the custom in Britain not to bother with a survey of European history, never mind world history. In one class children learn about the Vikings, the Maya and the Victorians, and in the next they move onto another similar jumble of unrelated facts. This is how it can come to the point that our brightest university students have to ask whether the Greeks or the Romans came first, whether the Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution were the same thing, and so on. Now, if one has no grasp of the course of history, then one will not be in a position to research the karmic relationships of an individual or a group of individuals. Indeed, in order to grasp the significance of history of the longue durée one also needs to recognize that the soul faculties — thinking, feeling and will — can themselves evolve. That is something which, when they grasp it — and by no means all of them do — deeply shocks my students. No one questions physical evolution, yet the potential for evolution of our capacity for thinking, feeling and will is barely dreamt of. Only when people generally accept that evolution on these levels is a possibility will the teaching and study of history have a motivation for providing the firm foundation on which karma research can be grounded. As long as we continue to ignore the fact that the soul as well as the body has undergone its own evolutionary development, the meaning of history of the longue durée will remain as incomprehensible as the evolution of human nature.
Just as archaeologists and anthropologists investigate human physical evolution, so intellectual historians investigate the evolution of the soul and its faculties. Our source-material is furnished by the history of the arts and the scholarly disciplines. Thus, the evolution of the faculty of thinking is best seen in the history of the academic disciplines — history of linguistics, of anthropology, of science, and so on. The history of feeling and of the individual feelings can be pursued most easily through literature, and also through art history. (In the English-speaking world art historians have gone a good deal further in this direction than historians of most other stripes.) The history of the will probably comes out most clearly in that of various organizations — charitable, financial, social and political institutions of one kind or another. Examples of the evolutions of all the soul faculties can be found wherever one looks — provided that we allow ourselves to look for them. But we will only allow ourselves to look when we understand the point of investigating such subjects. To break out of this vicious circle we must accept that two phenomena can and should be researched: the soul capacities and reincarnation.
As we have seen, neither can be properly researched unless we have a well-developed sense of history overall.
So our Section is concerned not only with beauty, as its German name indicates, but also with questions of truth and goodness, which lead directly to the moral aspect of life. If we can succeed in awakening an academically well-founded sense for the development of the soul faculties and for the laws of karma and reincarnation, then we will achieve something which is in danger of disappearing totally from consciousness; indeed, millions of people today have no inkling of it. We will thereby help to create a basis for an intensified search for a way of life which stands in a harmonious relation with the laws of karma, the laws of the healthy evolution of the human race. This would be a by no means trivial achievement. If the Section for Literary Arts and Humanities can take this on as part of its task, it would make an important contribution to the urgent problems which press in upon contemporary life from all sides — problems of right and wrong, good and evil, life and death.
“On the Founding of the Humanities Section and Humanities Research Group in Great Britain”
By Vivien Law
This article is based on a talk given at the Michaelmas meeting of the School of Spiritual Science, September 2000. It subsequently appeared in the 2002 Annual of the Literary Arts and Humanities (Goetheanum Press). This PDF reprint appears in 2022 as study material for friends and members of the Section for Literary Arts and Humanities of the School for Spiritual Science in North America
THE FOUNDING, OR POSSIBLY RE-FOUNDING, OF THE HUMANITIES SECTION IN GREAT BRITAIN that took place in January 1998 signaled the union of two initiatives that had been working away separately for years — one carried by Simon Blaxland-de Lange, whose life has been dedicated to anthroposophical impulses of many kinds, and the other by Vivien Law, the setting for whose work has been the very traditional mainstream institution of Cambridge University. That it took two people to bring these groups into existence is significant and testifies to the need to work consciously with the social element if we are to offer the spiritual world the possibility of creating with us.
In Cambridge in the late 1970s Vivien suggested to Andrew Welburn, then the leader of the Cambridge University Anthroposophical Study Group, that they get together a group of researchers in the Humanities working out of Anthroposophy. Andrew explained that this idea had been mooted several years previously by some members of the Cambridge study group now in America. Only when they returned to Britain could the group go ahead, he felt. In 1995 Vivien, feeling somewhat impatient, decided to go ahead with organizing a group of Humanities researchers working out of or sympathetic to Anthroposophy, whether or not they were Class members or even Society members. Although her inquiries met with general support and encouragement, she was unable to get herself to take the practical steps of choosing a date for an inaugural meeting, booking a room and so forth.
At the point when she realized that her impulse was in danger of foundering, an announcement appeared in the Society Newsletter Inviting people interested in a projected inaugural meeting of the Section to contact Simon Blaxland-de Lange. She did so, but shortly before the advertised date of the meeting, Simon cancelled it, convinced that a quorum would not be reached, and anxious that so important a project not founder at its very inception. A summer passed, and then Vivien rang Simon to suggest that they join forces to bring the two projects into being. Simon agreed with alacrity, and at Whitsun 1997 the first meeting of the Humanities Research Group took place with thirteen participants, several of them people not previously known to either of the organizers. Once this group had met several times, they moved to the founding of the Section, on 11 January 1998, the anniversary of Karl Julius Schröer’s birth. Since then both groups have met regularly, the Section twice a year for a day, the Research Group for an afternoon four times a year. The Section has run workshops at members’ conferences of the Society and at conferences of the School of Spiritual Science. The membership of the two groups overlaps to a large extent; indeed, several people from the Research Group have joined the School in order to be able to attend Section meetings as well.
From the outset it was felt that the scope of “Humanities” should be understood as encompassing anything language- or history-based, so taking in roughly the disciplines to be found in a university Faculty of Arts. Language use has been an important theme of the work of the Section, while the Research Group has tended to gravitate more to historical and literary topics. Both groups have stood very much under the star of Owen Barfield, who took an active interest in them until his death in December 1997.
Rather than adopt a structured program of work — hardly feasible given the diverse and for the most part highly demanding walks of life from which the participants come — both groups prefer to choose a topic for the next meeting which grows out of that of the current meeting. The Section sometimes chooses a theme for conversation — language change, for instance, or what it is that makes a mantra a mantra — and sometimes considers a lecture by Steiner or an essay by Barfield that has been read beforehand as the focus for its work during the morning, while the afternoon is occupied with reports, planning for conferences and other practical matters. Initially, the Research Group favored more or less formal presentations by one of its number followed by discussion, but as it became apparent that the conversation needed more space, presentations became shorter and conversations longer. Eventually the group took the step of dropping the individual presentation, taking joint responsibility for shaping the conversation on the basis of a work read in advance — Shakespeare’s King Henry V, the writings of Thomas Traherne, Bunyan’s Pilgrim ‘s Progress.
The tasks that The Humanities Research Group and the Humanities Section have so far taken on are linked closely with their situation in the English-speaking world. The perceived decline in the way in which the English language is used is an urgent problem for the Section, given the worldwide currency of the language: how can we learn to distinguish between the kind of change which takes language, people and the associated spiritual beings forward in their development, and changes which have a retarding influence? The Research Group has taken up a different kind of problem. Anthroposophists in the English-speaking world frequently feel frustrated by Steiner’s references to Central European writers such as Meister Eckhardt, Angelus Silesius, Schiller and indeed Goethe, for none of them — not even Goethe! — are part of the repertoire of foreign literature that an educated English person will routinely have read. So, a crucial question for us when reading Steiner becomes: “Is there an English equivalent? Can we identify this phenomenon in our own literature?” The work the Humanities Research Group has been engaged in recently has involved schooling our organs of perception to develop the sensitivity needed to recognize the phenomena described by Steiner in quite different guises — and perhaps also to learn to recognize new phenomena.
Part of the intention in bringing these groups into existence was to overcome the isolation and lack of confidence that British Humanities researchers working in anthroposophical settings face; very few of our number are based in universities, in contrast to the situation in Central Europe. The direction in which both groups have moved is to cultivate active conversation and active listening in a way which is sometimes lighthearted, often intense, always committed and deeply involved. That this profoundly living way of working can itself be strengthening and fructifying for our own work we are convinced.
The 2002 Annual was dedicated to the memory of Vivien Law, who died February 19, 2002.
From the 2002 Section yearbook contributors biography: “Vivien Law lectured at the University of Cambridge on the history of linguistics from Plato up into the 20th century with emphasis on the history of consciousness.”