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Between "Veritas" and "Communitas": Epistemic Switching in the Reading of Academic and Sacred History


Journal of the Learning Sciences Volume 21, Number 1, ISSN 1050-8406


We compared how 8 religious believers (historians and clergy) and 8 skeptics (historians and scientists) read a series of documents on 2 topics: the Biblical Exodus and the origins of the first (American) Thanksgiving. Readings by religiously committed historians differed from those of their non-religious peers. Navigating between the competing commitments of their faith communities on the one hand and an academic guild on the other, religious historians engaged in "epistemic switching", varying epistemological criteria to align with the allegiances triggered by the document under review. To explain these findings, we propose that historical understanding be conceived not as a unitary construct but as a form of coordination between multiple axes: a vertical axis of increasing intellectual sophistication as defined by the discipline; and a horizontal axis of identification and commitment, along which individuals move between a variety of allegiances and affiliations as they engage the epistemological criteria of sacred history. Implications for future research in the learning sciences are discussed. (Contains 10 footnotes, 3 tables and 4 figures.)


Gottlieb, E. & Wineburg, S. (2012). Between "Veritas" and "Communitas": Epistemic Switching in the Reading of Academic and Sacred History. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 21(1), 84-129. Retrieved April 10, 2020 from .

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