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Do we need a literary canon?

Jonathan Sacks is right that we need a common culture, but wrong to think it should be based on a canon. Forcing young people to read the Bible won't foster a sense of belonging. Shared references must evolve more organically

By Richard Jenkyns   December 2007

Discuss this article at First Drafts, Prospect’s blog The chief rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, recently wrote: “Until recently, national cultures were predicated on the idea of a canon, a set of texts that everyone knew. In the case of Britain they included the Bible, Shakespeare and the great novels. The existence of a canon is essential to a culture. It means that people share a set of references and resonances, a public vocabulary of narratives and discourse.” This shared inheritance, he argues, is now being destroyed by multiculturalism and technology, satellite television and the internet in particular. But what is a…

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