It seems pretty clear that we, as a community, want to allow questions both about history (meta) and about historical Christianity (meta).

However, should there be limits placed on what we allow?

For example:

  • What percentage of Christians were killed by the bubonic plague?

  • What was the role of the Catholic church in the war of 1812?

  • How did gnosticism impact the decisions made at the council of Nicea?

  • Why did Christians infect the native American population with smallpox?

  • How did Aristotle impact the culture of Isreal during the time of Jesus?

I'm not saying these are all bad. These are just examples to illustrate that we probably have some guidelines as to what is on-topic and what is not.

First criteria: It must be (at least tangentially) related to Christianity.

What other criteria should we have?

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@PeterTurner: deleted my comment. Realized how unfunny it would be when atheists show up and don't recognize it as a joke. –  dancek Sep 8 '11 at 21:53
    
@dancek, yeah I was wondering where you were coming from there on that one. –  Peter Turner Sep 8 '11 at 21:58
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2 Answers 2

Firstly, it is clear that questions about Christianity in the past - Christian history - should be on topic. This question gives some of the reasons. However not everything that is historical, but tangential to Christianity, is on topic. Here are my suggestions:

Questions about the beliefs and practice of any Christian group, past or present, are on topic. So these would all be on-topic:

  • What were the main beliefs of the Puritan movement?
  • What was the Anglican church's teaching on Baptism in the 18th Century
  • What did the Greek Orthodox church teach about communion?

Questions about the teachings and beliefs of specifically Christian teachers and leaders are on-topic So these would be on-topic:

  • What did Erasmus believe about indulgences?
  • What did Augustine believe was the proper role of the civil authorities

Questions about the beliefs of other famous people are off-topic So questions about the beliefs of these people would be off-topic:

  • George Washington
  • Madonna
  • Barack Obama

Questions about the history of specifically Christian movements are on-topic. So these would all be on-topic:

  • When did the Azusa Street Revival take place?
  • Who was the first Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury?

Questions where Christianity is peripheral to the question, or Christian is used culturally rather than religiously, are off-topic. So these are off=topic:

  • What percentage of Christians were killed by the bubonic plague?
  • What weapons were used in the Huguenot (French Catholic v Protestant) Wars?
  • Why did Christians infect the native American population with smallpox?

Obviously the main criterion is how closely tied the question is to the subject of Christianity. But a secondary question is where else the question might be asked. The last sections are clearly better suited to a History site, and the 'Christian Movement' questions could fit there, but I think we are more likely to be able to answer them here.

Finally, let's not forget that we don't have to be personally interested in every on-topic question. If you don't want to answer questions about historical Christianity, you don't have to. But that doesn't mean they should be banned from the site.

I'm open to suggestions about any of the areas I mentioned.

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Great list! How does "What was the church's role in slavery?" fit in this list? Would that be on-topic or off-topic based on these criteria (and which criteria)? –  Richard Sep 9 '11 at 13:55
    
Belief and practice of a Christian group. –  DJClayworth Sep 9 '11 at 14:00
    
(It might be worth noting that I've edited the actual question based on the comments to the question. I believe that the edited question is much more on topic based on this list above.) –  Richard Sep 9 '11 at 14:00
    
Thanks for that. I guess my question wasn't as clear as I thought. –  DJClayworth Sep 9 '11 at 20:22
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Historical questions which are skeptical in nature should be directed to skeptics.SE where they'll get the usual Larian LaQuella' treatment.

Maybe a better criteria is historical questions shouldn't make Christianity out to be a straw man, if anything they ought to be as viewpoint neutral as humanly possible.

Otherwise I'll have to spend all day defending the Catholic Church.

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So, legitimate questions that are hot topics should be valid? "Was governmental pressure actually responsible for the revelation that polygamy should be ended in Mormonism?" (Just attempting to reiterate and give an example of something that would be on-topic based on this criteria.) –  Richard Sep 8 '11 at 22:24
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I can't see why not. Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. It's not like we should be locked in some sort of timewarp. –  Peter Turner Sep 8 '11 at 22:35
    
@Peter: Please don't suggest posting to skeptics in such a general manner. People should read the FAQ, about what is on topic on Skeptics, and what is not. I guess your remark about Larian LaQuella' treatment was made in friendship and respect? –  user unknown Sep 9 '11 at 21:34
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