Hermeneutics of Suspicion
Someone recently commented about my apparent lack of respect for the texts I study as a scholar of religion. It was suggested that rather than leaping to point out apparent contradictions I should seek ways to reconcile them.
This is the much touted “hermeneutic of generosity” or “hermeneutic of charity”: be generous toward the traditions you study!
I really do want to be a generous guy; the problem is that my generosity overflows and is directed toward multiple parties at once. I want to be generous to:
- this particular text
- the community that created this text
- other texts that disagree with this text
- the communities that created those other texts
- people who may have been abused or exploited because of particular interpretations of this text
Sorting out these multiple commitments requires employing a hermeneutic of suspicion—the suspicion is cast not by me but by the competing texts, competing communities, etc.
A judge can’t be generous to both the defendent and the plaintiff at the same time, and has no grounds to arbitrarily choose to be generous to one and suspicious of the other. The two parties’ competing claims require the judge to employ a hermeneutic of suspicion toward both.
Also—although this is not always the case—I often find that many people who push this point want me to be charitable to their tradition and their texts, whereas they have no problem with me utilizing a hermeneutic of suspicion when investigating the traditions or texts of others.