Why Reference, Re-Use, and Argumentative Patterns?

The key idea of the OTRA project is to describe the discourse between Christianity and Islam with the help of three layers: reference, re-use, and argumentative patterns. But why these three?

Summary: Reference and re-use are central ingredients when compiling religious, polemical text. Cross-correlating them with the argumentational structure allows to study the development of a discourse over time.

When debating religion, references are vital. If you can build your argument on passages from holy, universally accepted texts (accurately interpreted, of course), your opponent should – generally speaking – concede defeat. If you happen to argue against another religion, well, why not try to find incriminating material within their own books. This reference to authority is therefore wide-spread in religious disputes.

Say, you are a Christian in medieval Europe. It is vitally important to you that all the non-believers out there adopt Christianity – it would be a shame for their souls not to be redeemed, after all. So, you decide to sit down and write something addressed towards Muslims, an ever-growing focus group in the later Middle Ages. But where do you find reliable information? Most of the time, you don’t. One translation of the Qur’an was issued by Peter the Venerable in the 1140s, but it was hardly present in every library. If you’re lucky, someone from some religious order was once there and wrote something about it – but these texts are also hard to come by. Let’s assume you actually manage to get hold of one of the two. Weeping tears of joy, you will base most of your treatise on these sources, occasionally copying entire passages where they hit the mark really well. In modern times, that would have earned you the accusation of plagiarism, but in your times, well, it’s a form of flattery.

Finally, even if you do find your own words, it is unlikely that you will deviate entirely from your predecessors. There are only so many things that Muhammad can have gotten wrong, and so many things that need correcting regarding Christian faith. However, there is also a special art to taking previous authorities and adapting them to new purposes: As was famously said, by Alain de Lille:

Since authority has a nose of wax, it is so that the sense [of a scriptural passage] can be bent in different ways”

(Sed quia auctoritas cereum habet nasum, id est in diversum potest flecti sensum.) (Alain de Lille, De fide catholica I, 30, Migné Patrologia Latina 2I0, 333 A))

For these reasons, OTRA considers the historical evolution of argumentation in the CMRE discourse on three levels: Reference, Re-Use, and Argumentative Patterns. Studying the evolution of arguments emerges both through their individual development and through their combination. On the first level, one can e.g. ask which authoritative texts are cited as what time. On the second, one can follow which sections of informative texts are reused. On the third, one sees shifts in argumentative purpose.

The magic, however, happens when combining these approaches: Which references are used to support which conclusion? Are these references later used for another purpose? Or is the same conclusion supported by different argument-components?

If well done, OTRA should allow to describe the development of argumentation by doing these comparisons.


OpenEdition suggests that you cite this post as follows:
Jacob Langeloh (September 28, 2022). Why Reference, Re-Use, and Argumentative Patterns? OTRA-Blog. Retrieved July 19, 2024 from https://doi.org/10.58079/voyc


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