Naturalizing Biblical Hermeneutics: A Case for Grounding Hermeneutical Theory in the Sociocognitive Sciences

Brunel University
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PhD, London School of Theology, in association with Brunel University
258 pages +xiv
Most theories of biblical hermeneutics were developed within literary and philosophical frameworks that were antipsychologistic. Without a grounding in empirical research, hermeneutical theories have been largely intuitive, with little empirical criteria for substantiating their claims or arbitrating among differing interpretations. The one exception has been those approaches that utilized linguistics and discourse analysis, but even these were conducted in a structuralist framework that was antipsychologistic. In the last fifty years, however, the so-called ‘cognitive revolution’ has turned this around in most disciplines in a broad movement called cognitive science. Relevant to hermeneutics is the fact that research in various branches of cognitive science has led to a wealth of studies that shed light on the natural cognitive processes involved when people interpret one another and compose written communications. Since meaning is a cognitive phenomenon and the interpretation of others is a sociocognitive activity, it would seem reasonable to naturalize hermeneutical theory by grounding it in the empirical sociocognitive sciences. My thesis is that doing so leads to insights and concepts that justify this naturalization. To demonstrate this thesis I present results from relevant strands of sociocognitive research, with reflections from philosophical sources, and show the value of applying them to the definition, theory, and practice of biblical hermeneutics. I show that a sociocognitive conceptual framework makes it possible to give empirical support and definition to the concepts of reconstructive hermeneutics, authorial meaning, original context, exegesis, exposition, translation, and reader’s significance, and to redefine the roles of exegete, reader, expositor, and translator. I apply sociocognitive conceptual tools rather briefly to a wide range of textual phenomena in the Bible, both to clarify the theoretical concepts involved and to show how they can illuminate potential meanings in new ways. I apply them to biblical terms and concepts to show that they can facilitate a more comprehensive analysis of biblical concepts and theology.
The author proposes a new theory of biblical interpretation based on cognitive science.
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Table of Contents:
Introduction 1. Hermeneutics and the Nature of Human Knowledge 1.1. Hermeneutics as applied epistemology 1.2. The nature and content of beliefs 1.3. The formation and evaluation of beliefs 2. Hermeneutics and Naturalized Epistemic Evaluation 2.1. Truth 2.2. Critical realism 2.3. N. T. Wright’s storied critical realism 2.4. Critique of critical realism 2.5. Reliabilist criteria for epistemic evaluation 2.6. Conclusions 3. Hermeneutics and the Nature of Concepts 3.1. An overview of concepts and their classifications in cognitive science 3.2. A neuroscientific sketch of concepts and lexemes 3.3. Semantic frames 3.4. Conceptual structure 3.5. Schema theory 3.6. The construction of new concepts 3.7. Concepts and reference 3.8. Conclusions 4. Hermeneutics and the Social Organization of Communicative Events 4.1. Speaker, addressee, utterance, and effect 4.2. Speech acts and their intended effects 4.3. Sociocognitive functions of communication 4.4. Simple participant structures 4.5. Complex participant structures 4.6. Observer-interpreters 4.7. Exegetes as astute observers 4.8. Expositors and translators as observer-interpreters 4.9. A brief comparison of hermeneutical models of participant structure 5. Hermeneutics and the Social Cognition of Communicative Events 5.1. Message, code, and processes for encoding and decoding 5.2. Information structure, context models, and mindreading 5.3. The contextual and inferential nature of communication 5.4. Context 5.5. Contextualization and the principle of optimal relevance 5.6. Intertextual assumptions 5.7. Cognitive effects 5.8. Implicatures 5.9. Meaning versus significance 5.10. Conclusions 6. Hermeneutics and Individual Cognition of Communicative Events 6.1. The comprehension process 6.2. Exegetical reconstruction of the comprehension process 6.3. Example: Arrangement of the marriage of Isaac and Rebekah 6.4. The hermeneutical circle 6.5. The role of cognitive accessibility 6.6. Relative accessibility 6.7. Inherent accessibility of assumptions and concepts in long-term memory 6.8. Conclusion 7. The Translation and Elucidation of Scripture 7.1. Reconstructive hermeneutics 7.2. Interpretative macrogenres 7.3. Exposition: exegetical aspects of a sociocognitively optimal Bible commentary 7.4. Exposition: applicative aspects of a sociocognitively optimal Bible commentary 7.5. Translation as a hermeneutical activity 7.6. Ernst-August Gutt’s theory of direct translation 7.7. Translated text: towards a classification of degrees of explication 7.8. Communicative annotated translations 8. Conclusion
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Relevance Theory
information structure
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