This is an especially pertinent question for me right now because I will be teaching a course this term on Christian Spirituality. I want to invite students to investigate the people we are studying and to become invested in their lives to some extent. Yet I need them to engage in critical analysis and good research practices. Lewis, in his signature accessible and analogical manner, insists that we weave both approaches together, forging a learning method that acknowledges both the inside and outside aspects, or as he calls them, "looking along" and "looking at."
Here are a few quotes from the article:
It has been assumed without discussion that if you want the true account of religion you must go, not to religious people, but to anthropologists; that if you want the true account of sexual love you must go, not to lovers, but to psychologists; that if you want to understand some “ideology” (such as medieval chivalry or the nineteenth-century idea of a “gentleman”), you must listen not to those who lived inside it, but to sociologists.
A physiologist, for example, can study pain and find out that it “is” (whatever is means)
such and such neural events. But the word pain would have no meaning for him unless he had “been inside” by actually suffering. If he had never looked along pain he simply wouldn't know what he was looking at. The very subject for his inquiries from outside exists for him only because he has, at least once, been inside.
But it is perfectly easy to go on all your life giving explanations of religion, love, morality, honour, and the like, without having been inside any of them. And if you do that, you are simply playing with counters. You go on explaining a thing without knowing what it is. That is why a great deal of contemporary thought is, strictly speaking, thought about nothing - all the apparatus of thought busily working in a vacuum.
Lewis' example of studying suffering is beautiful and very appropriate. How can one really speak knowledgeably about pain unless one has been inside it? How can we purport to be experts on any subject that we have kept our distance from? I have always believed that I can only truly learn from or about a subject if I love it. If there is no love, I will put up barriers between us, and that will impede my learning. Yes, much can be learned by taking an objective look at something from an outside perspective. But this knowledge will always be incomplete without venturing inside, even if just for a moment. The word "incarnation" comes to mind.
Here is the C.S. Lewis article in its entirety: Meditation in a Toolshed
the photo: taken from a speeding car while driving through Manitoba one morning in December. Colorization effect added (because it reminded me of van Gogh).