The role of empathy in theological studies
Meaningful theological and historical dialog requires empathy – the ability to identify with the thoughts, feelings, and perspectives of another person. Without it, you are only talking to yourself.
Mike Koke helpfully provided the following quote, which sums up the importance of empathy very nicely.
The very possibility of historical scholarship as an enterprise distinct from propaganda requires of its practicioners that vital minimum of ascetic self-discipline that enables a person to do such things as abandon wishful thinking, assimilate bad news, discard pleasing interpretations that cannot pass elementary tests of evidence and logic, and, most important of all, suspend or bracket one’s own perceptions long enough to enter sympathetically into the alien and possibly repugnant perspectives of rival thinkers.” (Thomas L. Haskell, Objectivity is not Neutrality, 148-149)
As Mike goes on to point out, this doesn’t mean that we have to abandon our own commitments in the vain pursuit of the unicorn we know as “objectivity.” But, it does mean that we temporarily bracket our opinions long enough to view the other side as they see themselves.
Of course, we’ll never do this perfectly. But, you know what they say, anything worth doing is worth butchering so badly that you make everyone mad and end up sleeping on the couch.