African Contextual Hermeneutics

Readers, Reading Communities, and Their Options between Text and Context

in Religion and Theology
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The role of the missionaries and their widespread dissemination of the Bible in the process of colonisation of Africa problematized the interpretation of its text, particularly in South Africa, where it was used both to legitimate apartheid and in the struggle for liberation. This paper documents the emergence of the “Tri-polar Model” (Grenholm and Patte, as modified by Draper) in African Contextual Hermeneutics, and problematises it in terms of the hegemonic role of the reader’s “ideo-theological orientation” (West). A new way forward is sought through emphasising this role of the reader, but also the possibility of a “willing suspension of disbelief” (Coleridge) in the construction of the “othered self” through “conversation” with the text (Gadamer) and the role of “reading communities” (Fish) in demanding accountability from reader(s).

African Contextual Hermeneutics

Readers, Reading Communities, and Their Options between Text and Context

in Religion and Theology




See Jonathan A. Draper“‘For the Kingdom is Inside You and it is Outside of You’: Contextual Exegesis in South Africa,” in Text and Interpretation: New Approaches in the Criticism of the New Testament (eds. Patrick J. Hartin and J.H. Petzer; Leiden: Brill1991) 235–257. I acknowledge my debt here to my late colleague Gunther Wittenberg who patiently explained to me when we began working together in Pietermaritzburg in 1986 why Bultmann had been such an exciting revelation to him as a young student in Germany and what the significance of his hermeneutics was for contextual exegesis.


Albert NolanGod in South Africa (Cape Town: David Philip1988).


Jonathan A. Draper“Old Scores and New Notes: Where and What is Contextual Exegesis in the New South Africa,” in Towards an Agenda for Contextual Theology (ed. McGlory Speckman. Pietermaritzburg: Cluster Publications2001) 148–168.


Jonathan A. Draper“Reading the Bible as Conversation: A Theory and Methodology for Contextual Interpretation of the Bible in Africa”Grace and Truth 19 no. 2 (2002.): 12–24.


Paul RicoeurEssays on Biblical Interpretation (ed. L.S. Mudge; Philadelphia: Fortress1980); Ricoeur Hermeneutics and the Social Sciences.


GadamerTruth and Method358.


GadamerTruth and Method359.


GadamerTrush and Method360.


GadamerTruth and Method361. The history and theory of the Other/othering is complex and need not detain us here. Defining ourselves over against the other is usually (rightly) associated with domination and is used as a critique of power e.g. by Claude Lévi-Strauss (1955/1992); Said’s theory of “orientalism” (1985); Simone de Beauvoir’s feminist critique in Le Deuxième Sexe/ The Second Sex (1949/1953) and so on. However it can be turned back on the reader so that the other is ‘allowed’ to interrogate him/her. It is this possibility which I have been anxious to explore.


Jürgen Habermas“Der Universalitätsanspruch der Hermeneutik” in Hermeneutik und Ideologiekritik: Theorie-Diskussion (Frankfurt a/M: Suhrkamp Verlag1971) 120–159. Translated into English by Jerry Dibble and published as “On Hermeneutics’ Claim to Universality” in Kurt Mueller-Vollmer ed. The Hermeneutics Reader: Texts of the German Tradition from the Enlightenment to the Present (New York: Continuum 1985) 294–319.


Habermas“On Hermeneutics’ Claim”302–303.


Habermas“On Hermeneutics’ Claim”317.


Habermas“On Hermeneutics’ Claim”317.


Samuel Taylor ColeridgeBiographica Literaria (ed. and enl. James Shawcross; Oxford: Clarendon1907).


Hans de Wit““It Should Be Burned and Forgotten!” Latin American Liberation Hermeneutics through the Eyes of Another” in The Bible and the Hermeneutics of Liberation (ed. A.F. Botta and P.R. Andiňach; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature2009) 38–60esp. 59 citing Levinas.


De Wit“It should be burned and forgotten”45; citing the work of Rebecca Chopp The Praxis of Suffering: An Interpretation of Liberation and Political Theologies (Maryknoll N.Y.: Orbis 1986).


Peter Berger and Thomas LuckmannThe Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge (New York: Doubleday1966).


Andrew Northedge“Enabling Participation in Academic Discourse”. Teaching in Higher Education 8 No. 2 (2003): 169–180; cf. Mary R. Lea and Brian V. Street “Student Writing in Higher Education: an academic literacies approach” Studies in Higher Education 23 no. 2 (1998): 157–172.


Andrew VillageThe Bible and Lay People (Farnham: Ashgate2007).


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