Since its now notorious mid-1800s historiographical positivist critiques, the term hagiography
was often contested as a valid and valuable category for the comparative study of religious phenomena. This essay argues for
the perpetuation and careful use of the term hagiography
and its cognates in comparative contexts. Drawing from my work on the narrative traditions of the medieval Christian Saint Francis of Assisi (1182–1226) and the Tibetan Buddhist Milarepa (c. 1052–1135), I offer a revised definition of hagiography
that reflects the nexus of behaviors, practice, beliefs, and productions through which a community constructs the memory of a human being it considers to have embodied religious perfection. I then suggest that the category, so redefined, allows us to more readily and accurately characterize these kinds of narratives. Consequently, we can easily apprehend them as emic historiographical creations that situate a given community between past and future in light of a given theory of truth, embodied in the literary saintly
figure. This, eventually, orients individuals and communities, doctrines, and practices within a historical timeframe.
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