Cultural-Political Hermeneutics: Ideology, Text and Power

 NOTE: this course is being recast into a new form for the Fall 2020 schedule. It will occur under a new title: “Text, Ideology and Power: Hermeneutics in Theology. Examples of some of the new texts read are The World, the Text and the Critic, by Edward Said, The Talking Book: African Americans and the Bible by Allen Callahan,  Patick Chabal and Jean-Pascal Daloz, Culture Troubles: Politics and the Interpretation of Meaning, and Mitzi J. Smith,  I Found God in Me: A Woman A Womanist Biblical Hermeneutics Reader

A critical examination of theories of interpretation, “hermeneutics,” and of ways these illumine the cultural and political dimensions at work in all readings of theological and biblical texts. (This course was taught originally by Taylor as “Contemporary Hermeneutics in Theology,” then later, for a decade, co-taught by him with New Testament scholar, Dr. Brian K. Blount as “Cultural Hermeneutics.”)

The procedure is to consider, first, the ways in which the theological and philosophical legacies of Rudolf Bultmann and Hans-Georg Gadamer open new understandings of traditional texts. Both are seen as limited and insufficient, even while they nevertheless prepare the ground for taking up new sources as a lens on contemporary theological and political issues. These sources include Negro spirituals, the peasant community at Solentiname, Black preachers, fundamentalist, womanist, feminist, Asian and Asian-American, Latino/a, disabled and gay/bi/lesbian communities, Latin American and other interpreters of biblical texts.  This work (1) demonstrates the various contextual factors that are most influential in their interpretive process, and (2) determines how those factors operate.


(The above syllabus will be significantly changed in light of the new version of this course beginning in Fall 2020, “Text, Ideology & Power: Hermeneutics in Theology)

Different senses of antagonism are highlighted in this class. There is, overall, that between powerful Eurocentric traditions and their critics. The former tend to study texts with little or no concern at all with the cultural and political ideologies at work in texts and in reading them. The critics can be found in Europe’s own intellectual traditions. The course thus begins with two German critics, H.-G. Gadamer and Rudolf Bultmann, who open the way for more culturally and politically-oriented theorists who challenge those dominant traditions even more directly. The course then also examines the conflicts in interpretation among different contextual ideologies at work among the critics.

Experience of the arts is taken as a model for interpreting texts, and various forms of the popular arts become important considering new cultural and political readings of the bible and doctrine. Special focus on the dialogues about scriptural interpretation in Solentiname, Nicaragua, and attention to the art-works of Solentiname and from the Prison Arts Coalition in the U.S.

Social movements are shown to be essential to the very process of interpreting texts, because to test their claims interpreters move to understand the different contextual lenses that various communities bring to the construction of textual meanings. In this way interpreters experience a dialogical field of poly-cultural and politically liberating perspectives, and always a conflict of interpretations – all as necessary for testing the truth-claims of their interpretations.