Christian Humanist Profiles 12: Structuralism, Modern Literature, and Christianity

Anyone who’s spent any time at all with the New Testament is familiar with the opening dew-on-a-spider-websentences of the Gospel of John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.” And anyone who’s spent any time at all in graduate studies of language and literature is familiar with another view of the word, and words. To quote Ferdinand de Saussure, the great Swiss structuralist linguist, “The linguistic sign unites, not a thing and a name, but a concept and a sound-image.” And in the next section, he says, “the linguistic sign is arbitrary,” meaning that no intrinsic relationship exists between the English word tree and the class of entities we use that word to refer to. Word is severed from thing. This is the foundation of structuralist linguistics and thus the foundation of much of twentieth- and 21st-century thinking.

Our guest today on Christian Humanist Profiles is Dr. Roger Lundin, the Arthur F. Holmes Professor of Faith and Learning at Wheaton College and the president of the Conference on Christianity and Literature. Dr. Lundin is the author of numerous books, including Literature Through the Eyes of Faith, a standard text for Introduction to Literature courses at Christian colleges. His latest book is Beginning with the Word: Modern Literature and the Question of Belief, which takes on the structuralist conception of language as a sign-system and proposes a different way of viewing language

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