Philology, Phrenology—What’s the difference?

I first saw an announcement about a movement to retread the worn out tires of philology in biblical studies last spring. It was around April 1 and I honestly wondered at first if it was an April Fool’s joke. Apparently it isn’t. I haven’t stopped shaking my head.

I gave a paper at SBL last year in which I discussed what I thought was the obvious and sensible notion that theory is necessary for analysis. For language, this means some sort of clear and coherent theory of language. The exhumation of philology has problems with theory, but that doesn’t seem to be stopping the grave diggers. Apparently theory avoidance is a malady that is hard to get rid of and spreads easily.

Anyway, I spent about 5 minutes with the announcement, which is also posted here (I shall remain hopeful that it’s not a permanent condition), and had a little Swiftian fun by changing a few words. So read further for some Fall fun.


Cranial Studies for the 21st Century
Renewed Phrenology is an international working group of scholars in cranial studies whose work reflects critically on the intellectual frameworks brought to bear in phrenological practice. The work of this group is diverse in its interests, interdisciplinary in its readings of craniums and the return to pre-scientific world-views, and meta-critical in its practices. We are comprised of a core group of researchers and are supported by a broader advisory board.

Why we started this group
The systematic study of craniums, their fissures and their bumps has been central to education and intellectual activity since the development of the haircut itself. Phrenology has been foundational to approaches to the cranium-mind relationship and the development of ideas about personality traits.

In the history of ideas, the scholarly and pedagogical activities that are constitutive of phrenology have been essential in the formation of our identities through early childhood head shaping and in situating and reintroducing methods sans theory and rigor in the twenty-first century.

In the modern academy, scholars from different disciplines apply similar methodologies on sometimes vastly different craniums. But sometimes ongoing work labors without the benefit of a deep understanding of phrenology’s own history as a discipline and in particular, the inaccuracies its ways of reading craniums have historically produced.

We seek to reshape phrenology’s future through understanding its past. Through our work, we hope to renew the value of careful attention to cranial landscape and the cultural values encoded in cranium shape, size, and terrain and discover forgotten or overlooked cranial patterns within phrenological practices. Faculty and students working in diverse disciplines stand to benefit from learning about each other’s work in phrenology inside and outside the classroom. While our focus is specifically on cranial phrenology and the unique challenges faced to the study of these “head bumps,” our group is engaged with ongoing work in other pseudo-scientific disciplines.

What we are interested in is feeling craniums and drawing unwarranted personality conclusions. We are particularly concerned with what cranianists (and practitioners of other related areas) mean when they speak of “phrenology,” as both a set of cranial reading practices and an integrated theory of craniums. We are interested broadly in interventions in phrenology and its historical-critical posture that reflect critically upon gender, race, class, religious identity, and other subject positions embedded in the ridges, fissures, and bumps of the cranium.

We are interested in posing broad and un-empirical questions of craniums and the environments that produced them and are thus a reflection of a set of personality traits, such as hair production, hygiene, scalp shininess, cranium identity, cranial community, and the cranium in the imagination.

To learn more, see our page on recommended further reading.

What we do
The members of this group are engaged in a number of research projects, devise and infiltrate a number of workshops and conferences under the mantle of Renewed Phrenology.

Core members of this group are founders and chairs of key program units within the Society of Pseudo-Scientific Inquiry, including the program units “Phrenology is a Science, Really!” and “Why Won’t Medical Schools Let Us In?”.

Learn more about us
Photos of recent events
See calendar of upcoming events

Posted in Linguistics (theory or typology), Modern Scholarship. Tags: , . Comments Off on Philology, Phrenology—What’s the difference?
%d bloggers like this: