CHI agenda 2024 June 5-7


The 2024 Canadian Hermeneutics Institute

June 5–7, Calgary, Canada


Hermeneutics the Wide World Over:

For a Theory of Interpretation Beyond the Context of Tradition


Professor Theodore George

Texas A&M University

We are familiar with the basic tenet that the validity of hermeneutic research is dependent on context. In STEM disciplines, the validity of research is typically thought to be guaranteed by a host of norms that we sometimes gather under the auspices of the ‘scientific method.’ But, the validity of hermeneutic research, by contrast, requires that researchers pay careful attention not only to their own context but also that of their subject matter. Yet, how, precisely, are we to understand this context? What is the primary context that we need to take into account for our interpretive work?

The purpose of this lecture course is to defend a claim that challenges the classic answer to this question provided by Hans-Georg Gadamer. In his Truth and Method, Gadamer argues that the primary context of hermeneutics, while universal, takes shape in the world as given to us through tradition. While Gadamer’s classic answer has become definitive for theories of interpretation, it nevertheless raises the specter that hermeneutic research may be complicit in projects of cultural or linguistic nationalism. This specter becomes all the more concerning when hermeneutic research takes place within the context of traditions associated with projects such as imperialism, colonialism, or ecological destruction.

The claim of this lecture course, by contrast, is that the primary context of hermeneutic research is not the world given by a specific tradition, but, rather, what I will call the wide world over. As we shall see, this term is not meant to indicate merely a composite of specific traditions found across the globe, but rather a space that traditions lie within, an interval of interpretive possibilities that remains always at issue in every situation. The validity of hermeneutic research, as I shall argue, depends on whether, and how well, it takes into account this context of the wide world over. Such research, when conducted successfully, not only resists injustice, but can help lead to discoveries that expose it.

This lecture course defends the claim that the primary context of hermeneutic research is the wide world over through the reconsideration of three central themes in Gadamer’s hermeneutics: his elucidation of hermeneutical experience as conversation, the sense of language that makes such experience possible, and the ethical sensibilities that hermeneutic research requires. Accordingly, participants will have the opportunity both to examine and critically assess central concepts in Gadamerian hermeneutics.

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