Certain texts achieve a particular status because they transmit and present a culture: the books of the Bible, the Koran, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and its attendant covenants, the Draft Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe, the canonical texts of Buddhism, but also for example party programmes, learning plans, encyclopaedia and works such as Thomas More’s Utopia and Simone de Beauvoir’s Le Deuxième Sexe.
Such foundational texts are continuously interpreted and re-used in new situations. Depending on the shifting cultures, the status, usage context and potential penetration of the texts are thereby changed. The long and complicated history of how a foundational text has been used and interpreted is often related to a complicated genesis, with the text acquiring its shape or current interpretation only after negotiations between individuals and social groups.
Foundational texts must be examined based on their complicated interaction with contexts that are ever-changing. Because the texts are written, read and used within different social arenas and historical traditions, they must be studied based on research questions that open up for comparisons and supplementary methodological approaches that cross traditional institutional boundaries:
- What characterizes the social, political, ideological, linguistic, legal, institutional and material conditions in which the texts are created, and do these historical conditions shape the texts and their status? Ho do later situations affect the interpretation and use of the texts?
- What significance does knowledge of the foundational texts have for being cultured or educated, and what kind of knowledge is promoted through these texts?
- What happens with the texts’ internal structure when they are translated from one language to another, transferred from one culture to another, or transmitted from one medium to another?
- What are the criteria for correctly interpreting the texts? Who has the power and authority to make the interpretation? In what contexts, how and with what consequences do the texts regulate the actions of men and women?
Precisely because the texts help found the culture, the culture itself changes as the texts are created, used and interpreted. This reciprocity entails that foundational texts become a point of rotation for studies of cultural change and complexity. Studying them in a cross-disciplinary, but overall perspective is even more necessary because we in Norway and the West must increasingly relate to foundational texts from other cultures. Important research environments exist in several disciplines at the Faculty of Humanities, and in disciplines such as sociology, education, political science and law.
Foundational Texts are currently involved in two research projects:
Leader: Karen Gammelgaard.