The Past as Pilgrimage

Christopher Shannon and Christopher O. Blum

In The Past as Pilgrimage: Narrative, Tradition, and the Renewal of Catholic History, Catholic historians Shannon and Blum challenge the secular bias currently prevalent among professional historians, and argue for the compatibility of faith and reason in the study of the past. Inspired by the understanding of tradition developed in the work of philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre, the authors first critically examine both the internal contradictions and the enduring faith commitments of secular objectivity, then proceed to explore various traditions of Catholic historical thinking capable of synthesizing the technical advances of modern history with distinctly Catholic historical narratives. Their argument seeks to foster a conversation about the ways in which Catholic historians can integrate their faith traditions into their professional work while still remaining open to and engaged with the best of contemporary, non-Catholic thinking and writing about history.



Advance Praise for The Past as Pilgrimage

 “Shannon and Blum argue that Christian historians need to rethink how they perform their craft, less subject to positivism and isolated from other disciplines, and more attuned to the big questions. Throughout they remain attentive to their responsibilities as both researchers and teachers. They are passionate about their thesis, will surely provoke a range of responses, but have added an important voice to the debate about the vocation of the Christian historian.”

— Rev. James L. Heft, S.M.
President, Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies at the University of Southern California


“Taking as their starting point Alasdair MacIntyre’s understanding of the inescapably tradition-grounded character of all forms of knowledge and moral inquiry, the authors argue that it is high time to look past the stale and exhausted forms into which so much professional historical writing has settled. Instead they seek to restore the dignity and scope of historical writing by envisioning it a kind of pilgrimage, a way of deepening and keeping faith with the common life of the Church. A provocative and reverent book, which deserves a very wide readership.”

— Wilfred M. McClay
Blankenship Chair in the History of Liberty, University of Oklahoma


“The authors show that all history is written from a particular worldview, and when the Catholic worldview is precluded, other philosophical or covertly theological perspectives take its place — much to the detriment of the Church, which depends upon historical narratives for its communal flourishing. Exhibiting the wise judgment, erudition about the past, and narrative skills that comprise good historical writing, this gem of a book offers a brilliant fresh start for Catholic historians. Future historians will point to this book as a classic text that accomplished for the field of history what MacIntyre accomplished for philosophy. A must read.”

— Matthew Levering
Perry Family Foundation Professor of Theology, Mundelein Seminary

The Past as Pilgrimage is a bold call to recover a distinctly Catholic historical imagination and to chart an alternative conception of the historian’s craft–one that views historical inquiry as much more than a professional enterprise. Shannon and Blum’s manifesto will challenge and inspire historians who find Enlightenment historiography impoverished. And it will surely anger others for whom a different understanding of the historian’s craft is unthinkable.”

— Donald Yerxa
Editor, Fides et Historia

“Drawing on Catholic thinkers ranging from Augustine and Newman to Balthasar and MacIntyre, Shannon and Blum challenge the dogmas and functionally atheistic methodologies that shape most contemporary historical work.  In doing so, they underscore the importance of a crucial and often neglected intellectual task: rescuing the writing of history from the delusion that we can provide an account of the past, our own and all humanity’s, without reference to God.”

—Michael Baxter

Visiting Associate Professor, Catholic Studies, DePaul University