Canon – Why is the Concept of the Canon So Important to Writers?

In contemporary usage, a canon is a collection of works, theories, research methods, or practices that are considered foundational and authoritative within a specific academic discipline, professional discipline or cultural domain. It is defined by four main criteria: historical significance, aesthetic quality, cultural relevance, and its impact on subsequent developments in the field. As a writer, your grasp of the canon is key; this knowledge, assumed by your audience, enables you to contribute meaningfully to this conversation and meet the expectations of informed readers.

What is the Canon?

The canon represents a curated collection of works deemed authoritative or exemplary within a specific discourse community, contributing to the ongoing conversation of humankind. These works, often marked by their innovative knowledge, distinctive style, or profound impact, serve not only as benchmarks for understanding the evolution and core principles of a field but also as vital contributors to a broader dialogue across time and cultures. They encompass significant texts, foundational theories, methodologies, and practices that collectively shape the discourse within areas such as literature, science, art, and other scholarly or professional domains. In essence, the canon is more than a compendium of collective wisdom and stylistic milestones; it is an integral part of the dynamic and evolving conversation that forms the backbone of human intellectual and cultural history.

Related Concepts

Authority – How to Establish Credibility in Speech & Writing; Citation; Scholarship as a Conversation; Text; Strategic Searching; Textual Research Methods


Why Does the Concept of Canon Matter to Writers?

For writers, particularly within academic and professional writing discourse communities, the canon serves as a touchstone for understanding the evolution of thought and dialogue over time. It anchors writers in the ongoing conversation of humankind, providing historical context and established benchmarks against which new ideas and contributions are measured. Engaging with the canon enables writers to position their work within a broader discourse, ensuring that their contributions are informed, relevant, and add substantively to the collective body of knowledge.

Where Did the Concept of Canon Originate?

The term canon has originally referred to a definitive collection of sacred texts. In Christianity, the canon came to mean the official list of books accepted as Holy Scripture. Similar concepts of canonical works exist in other religions, such as Judaism and Buddhism.

How is a Canon Defined?

A work’s inclusion in the canon signifies its role in the ongoing conversation of humankind. Works that change a conversation about a body of knowledge, a research method, or practice in a discourse community are deemed canonical.

  1. Historical Significance: Works that are canonized often have a foundational role in the development of their field. They serve as benchmarks or turning points, after which the conversation turned and the discipline was never quite the same.
  2. Aesthetic and Intellectual Merit: Works may be deemed canonical because of their style, intellectual rigor or originality. This aspect evaluates how a work challenges or expands the boundaries of its discipline, reshaping perceptions of what is achievable or comprehensible within that field. Such works are lauded not just for their content, but for the innovative way they approach and articulate ideas, setting new standards for creativity and intellectual inquiry.
  3. Impact and Influence: Canonical works often serve as foundational texts upon which future research and scholarship are built. Canonical works typically provide new research findings, new theories or methodologies that change a discipline’s knowledge base.

How Do Canons Evolve?

A canon in a particular discipline or profession evolves in response to changes in knowledge claims, knowledge, societal values, academic trends, and cultural dynamics. As communities of practice engage in hermeneutics, textual research, quantitative research, qualitative research and debate, the canon in those disciplines evolves. As society changes, so do its values, interests, and concerns. The canon adapts to include works that address those changes.

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