The sixth chapter of my book Jesus Before the Gospels is tentatively entitled “Collective Memory and Early Recollections of Jesus.”  In it I deal with the phenomenon that sociologists call collective memory.   This phenomenon is different from the one we normally think of when we think of memory; most of the time we think of the psychological phenomenon of individual memories – either of things we’ve experienced (“episodic” memories, as they are called, as I have pointed out), or or things we have learned about the world (“semantic” memories), or of things we know how to do, such as hit a backhand in tennis or ride a bike (“procedural “ memories).   Sociologists for the past 90 years, though, have talked about how social groups reconstruct and imagine and preserve the past.   Here is how I introduce the matter in my chapter, before beginning to talk about the sociologists who pioneered the field (Maurice Halbwachs) and developed it (Jan Assmann and Barry Schwartz, for example)


I first began to see that memory is radically affected by a person’s social context when I moved to the South in 1988.   I had spent my entire adult life in other climes, five years in Chicago and ten in various places in New Jersey.   Over the course of those fifteen years, I had little reason to think about the American Civil War.  It was simply part of the background knowledge of the past that all of us had, the war against slavery that was one by the side that subscribed to all that was good, fair, and true.  Those poor Confederate soldiers may have fought valiantly for their cause, but their cause was misguided and it was a good thing they lost.  Everyone thought that.  Right?  I had no idea that there was another side to the story, one that was still held with some fervor over 120 years after the war had been decided.

It was in the South that I first “learned” that the Civil war was not about slavery but about state-rights.   Down here it was more commonly referred to with a term I had never heard before:  “The War of Northern Aggression.”

At first I thought ….

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