While there are many ways to integrate faith into a discipline, some scholars argue that faith integration into any academic discipline should begin with the presuppositions which undergird that discipline. In some disciplines, presuppositions (and their impacts upon the discipline) are evident. For example, if I presuppose that there is a good and loving God who created everything, my understanding of religious studies will differ dramatically compared to someone looking at the Christian faith and Scripture with atheistic presuppositions. While the implications of presuppositions may be somewhat obvious in a discipline like religious studies, do my presuppositions impact the discipline of Library and Information Science (LIS) and how it is practiced?
While some suggest that LIS is a pragmatic discipline and subsequently it has no philosophical presuppositions impacting its practice,1 others differ.2 Those suggesting that LIS has some philosophical presuppositions have won me over. As information and knowledge (and how we define them) are key components of LIS, it would make sense that how one looks at epistemology (and subsequently defines knowledge) will impact how they view and practice LIS. Consequently, a question looms: If epistemology can be looked at through a Christian lens, how might it impact how Christians view and practice librarianship?
There are several notable works done by Christian scholars in relation to epistemology,3 many of which have been incredibly enriching. However, I would like to focus this blog entry on the works of Esther Meek. Meek begins her dialog by noting an epistemological shift. Historically, epistemology has focused on accounting for knowledge which has already been attained, offering rational justification for what we already know. Meek, aligning with Michael Polanyi’s position, argues that epistemology should account for acts of coming to know.4
When I began my adventure of understanding how a Christian should view knowledge and its implications upon LIS, I began with Scripture. While Scripture is not a theological textbook, it supplies insight into many aspects of life. As I was curious about what it said about knowledge, I ran across an intriguing phrase: “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge/wisdom” (Psalm 111:10, Proverbs 1:7; 9:10). At first glance, this seems to be an odd phrase to which the 21st century has become quite unaccustomed, particularly when thinking about knowledge or epistemology. It raises more questions than it answers: “what does it mean to fear God?”; and “what does ‘fearing God’ have to do with knowledge?”
For starters, what does it mean? Scholars tend to agree that the idea of “fearing” has more to do with respect and reverence, than intimidation or trembling.5 In fact, some go as far as to argue that one of the reasons that this term does not appear as frequently in the New Testament as in the Old Testament is because the concept of accepting the message of the gospel is the manifestation of fearing God. In other words, “fearing God” in modern terms should be seen as “accepting Christ.”6 Whether or not this is a correct understanding may be up for debate, but regardless, Scripture clearly states that having respect and reverence for God is the beginning of knowledge. This idea and its subsequent connection of one’s acceptance of Jesus Christ with epistemology is intriguing. If our understanding of knowledge has the potential to impact how we view the profession of LIS, how might this idea of “fearing God” impact Christian librarians, our understanding of the profession, and how we practice it?
Meek provides a framework through which one could understand knowledge in this light, aligning it with the concept of “fearing God.”
In discussing knowledge, Meek states that knowledge is more about transformation than it is about information.7 In the context of LIS, a statement like this should at a minimum cause us to pause and reflect on what she is saying. Specifically, because numerous works in LIS see a tremendous semantic overlap between “knowledge” and “information”8 and, in many 21st century contexts, the two ideas have similarities, and subsequently, knowledge often does not carry with it this nuance implying transformation. So, is there any warrant for Meek’s sharp contrast between knowledge and information when she says: knowledge is transformation, not mere information?9
Meek uses this illustration in her book, but as I am going through a similar experience, let me speak into it from my own context. My oldest son is 15 and I am teaching him how to drive. I made a mistake when I first gave my son exposure to driving. We had picked up my two other kids and I asked him to drive home from the middle school (where we picked them up). We live about a quarter-mile from the middle school in a relatively small town of about 8000 people. In my context, this would be an easy drive: it is on one of the main drives of our small town, going into a residential neighborhood. What makes it easy for me? To use Meek’s phraseology: I have been transformed. Since many reading this blog are in a religious context, you are likely squirming around a bit because of the lack of comfortability of equating “transformation” with learning how to drive. However, Meek’s epistemology speaks so well to this. Let me explain.
Semi-needless to say, it was incredibly challenging for my son to take his first driving experience on a somewhat busy road into an occupied residential neighborhood. In fact, we came so close to hitting another car, it was a miracle that we did not. What made something that was incredibly easy for me so difficult and stressful for my son?
In the state of Oregon (where I live), a child can get their permit at 15. Prior to getting a permit, they need to take a written test. My son had studied the driving manual for weeks and knew the ins and outs of the laws and guidelines in relation to driving in the state of Oregon. In theory, my son knew how to drive – at least he had the intellectual knowledge. If this is the case, why was his first exposure to driving a car so stressful and chaotic? This is a rhetorical question because we are all aware that while my son may have known the ins and outs of a driving manual, he had no experience. He had never had an opportunity to live out what he knew. In other words, while my son knew the driving manual, ironically, he did not know how to drive (and in this context, we understand the difference). Why is the difference so difficult to understand in other contexts? Can I say that I know Scripture when it has not in some way transformed me? Can I say I know how to teach when teaching has not become second nature? Can I say I know the Library of Congress Classification System if it does not impact how I think about classifying content? Per Meek’s phrase, “Knowledge is transformation, not mere information,” my son had information (tons of it), but that had not been transformed into knowledge. Why not? The experience was lacking.
As my son has been learning to drive (he has been driving for about 9 months now), it has been interesting to watch how his driving ability has become embedded in him. What was once difficult and awkward has become second nature (he has even corrected me more than a handful of times when I have given him incorrect instruction). My son is learning; he is coming to know. This is probably no surprise to many reading this blog. But Meek uses a context like this to speak into epistemology. This process of embedding knowledge into my son has been one of transformation. Ideally, shouldn’t all learning work like this? Where a student is not simply desiring to learn a new set of data, but in some way in the process of so doing, they are transformed (even if it is a small facet of their lives being changed).
So, what does this mean for faithful librarians? While this idea needs further development (which I plan to do in future blog entries), there may be some components for the application. For starters, I think we need to acknowledge that this idea of transformation is at the root of many Christian institutions of higher education and even at the core of the gospel itself. It spurs several questions in relation to LIS. For example: “If knowledge can be truly transformation, would not a limitation to knowledge and access have a potential of hindering spiritual growth and development?”
Many of us can connect how a lack of access to Scripture will hinder spiritual development. We can also think of a theological work or a Bible study tool that has spurred us on to growth and development. One book which impacted me in this manner was Brian Rosner’s work: Known by God: A Biblical Theology of Personal Identity. If this knowledge plays a role in our spiritual growth, can we assume that it is transformational?
If Meek is correct that the focal point of epistemology should account for acts of coming to know, and knowledge is transformational, do entities that hinder access to knowledge deprive spiritual growth and development? Does this imply that there is some theological warrant for open access? Couldn’t this understanding of epistemology impact many facets of librarianship? These are huge questions and ones which I will further explore in future blog entries, but I find them to be intriguing questions, to say the least. Part of the issue, I believe, is our lack of connecting Meek’s epistemology (i.e. acts of coming to know in any context, but particularly an academic one) with spiritual growth: can I legitimately connect my son’s learning to drive with spiritual growth? If a Christian epistemology argues that knowledge plays a critical role in transformation, faithful librarians have a critical role to play in God’s kingdom.
Perhaps understanding epistemology in this light can guide librarianship to understanding its critical role in formation and discipleship, which is at the heart of many faith-based institutions. Future blog entries will develop this further.
- Jim Zwadlo, “We Don’t Need a Philosophy of Library and Information Science–We’re Confused Enough Already,” Library Quarterly 67, no. 2 (April 1997): 103–21, https://doi.org/Article.
- Gary P. Radford and John M. Budd, “We Do Need a Philosophy of Library and Information Science–We’re Not Confused Enough: A Response…,” Library Quarterly 67, no. 3 (July 1997): 315, https://doi.org/Article.
- David K Clark, To Know and Love God : Method for Theology (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2003); Kevin Diller, Theology’s Epistemological Dilemma: How Karl Barth and Alvin Plantinga Provide a Unified Response, 2014; Mary Healy and Robin A Parry, The Bible and Epistemology: Biblical Soundings on the Knowledge of God (Milton Keynes, U.K.; Colorado Springs, CO: Paternoster, 2007); Arthur Frank Holmes, Faith Seeks Understanding; a Christian Approach to Knowledge (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971); Dru Johnson, Epistemology and Biblical Theology: From the Pentateuch to Mark’s Gospel (New York: Routledge, 2017); Ryan O’Dowd, The Wisdom of Torah: Epistemology in Deuteronomy and the Wisdom Literature (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2009).
- Esther L Meek, Loving to Know: Introducing Covenant Epistemology (Eugene: Cascade Books, 2011), 68. For further development of Meek’s work on epistemology, look at Dru Johnson, Biblical knowing: A Scriptural Epistemology of Error (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014).
- Roland E Murphy, “Excursus on Fear of the Lord,” in Proverbs, vol. 22, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1998), 255.
- Karl Barth, “Fear of the Lord Is the Beginning of Wisdom.,” Interpretation 14, no. 4 (October 1960): 438.
- Meek, Loving to Know, 6.
- L. Ackoff, “From Data to Wisdom,” Journal of Applied Systems Analysis 16 (2010): 3–9; N. J. Belkin, “Towards a Definition of Infomation for Informatics,” in Informatics 2 : Proceedings of a Conference Held by the Aslib Co-Ordinate Indexing Group on 25-27 March 1974 at New College, Oxford, ed. Verina Horsnell and Aslib. Co-ordinate Indexing Group (London: ASLIB, 1975), 54, https://docs.google.com/open?id=0B8eZUEDch0AET19JTFdyRG9DUXc; Ian Cornelius, “Theorizing Information for Information Science,” in Annual Review of Information Science and Technology, vol. 36 (Medford, N.J: Information Today, 2002), 394; Fred Dretske, “Epistemology and Information,” in Philosophy of Information, ed. Pieter Adriaans and Johan van Benthem, vol. 8, Handbook of the Philosophy of Science (Oxford: Elsevier, 2008), 2, http://www.illc.uva.nl/HPI/Draft_Epistemology_and_Information.pdf.
- Meek, Loving to Know, 6.