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3.3: Six Hermeneutical Orientations

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    In Chapter 2, the concept of different orientations to the interpretation of the same system of religious symbols was introduced, and specifically orientations determined in large measure by each of the generic ways of being religious. The claim was made that an essential aspect of each of the ways was a distinctive hermeneutic (interpretive orientation) toward a tradition's system of symbols governed in large measure by the specific existential needs to which each way is addressed. In the previous section, some allusion was made to the hermeneutic characteristic of each of the ways. The following chart sketches in greater detail the six hermeneutical orientations, the existential needs with which each is correlated, and some typical characteristics of ultimate realityo that are highlighted as a result of each orientation.

    A more concrete sense of what is involved in these different orientations may be obtained by thinking of a single passage of scripture-say, the Jewish and Christian story of the Creation and Fall of Humankind in Genesis 2:4 to 3:24-being read and interpreted simultaneously from the perspective of each hermeneutic with its peculiar existential need. Notice how the story differently speaks to each need, how it invites multiple simultaneous interpretations, and how each way of being religious has, as it were, different eyes with which to see and different ears with which to hear.





    Sacred Rite

    The prospect of facing momentous events with no archetypal pattern to follow, no ultimately grounded sense of propriety.

    Looks for divine archetypeo to reenact ritually and re-present in ritual art, symbols and phrases to incorporate directly into aweinspiring ritual, patterns of sacred rite, aesthetic and proprietary considerations, and persons who model the way of sacred rite-as well as rationales for sacred ritual as a means to at-onement with ultimate realityo.

    A we-inspiring, sublime characteristics; primordial archetype(s) of meaningful order and vitalityo, source of all that is sacred and pure; the ground and basis of all propriety; source and goal of all things; well-spring of beauty, wholeness, and perfection.

    Right Action

    The sense that the way things happen to be is not the way they are ultimately supposed to beo, or that they would certainly not be what ultimately they should be if the divine order now being followed were not followed.

    Looks for disclosure of the way things are supposed to beo, patterns of right action and behavior (both social and individual), criteria for assessing current practice, directives for action in current circumstances, clues for overcoming one's own failures, and persons who model the way of right action-as well as rationales for right action as a means to at-onement with ultimate realityo.

    The normative order of all thingso (whether immanent or transcendent); the cosmic imperativeo, source of the sumons to do what is right and just; the ordered wholeo in which each thing finds its rightful place and its just due.


    Experiences that threaten to overwhelm one's emotional capacity to bear them and a sense of personal inadequacy to attain anything of substantial worth on one's own.

    Looks for a focus of devotional worship, summons to emotional reorientation, surrender and catharsis, words of pastoral guidance, promises of personal comfort and reassurance, confidence builders in providence, and persons who model true devotion-as well as rationales for devotional surrender to divine grace as a means to at-onement with ultimate realityo.

    Providential graceo, compassion, love, beneficence, personal interest and care, responsiveness to pure devotion and trust, capacity to become intimately (personally) present and to enter into personal relationships with devotees.

    Shamanic Mediation

    Helplessness in the face of practical crises whose solutions transcend mundane resources.

    Looks for promise of, and directives for, receiving spiritual power and vision to bring down, mediate, or channel ''supernatural" powero to meet mundane problems, models of shamanic mediation, insights into constructing a "map" of the spirit world"-as well as rationales for shamanic mediation as a means to at-onement with ultimate realityo.

    "Supernatural" (trans-mundane) powero; source of ecstatic visions, dreams, and prophetic messages; ground of creativity and charismatic gifts; ultimate agent behind

    ''supernatural" intervention°; source of spiritual guidance, Lord and master ofthe realm of spiritso; victor over demonic forces.

    Mystical Quest

    Disquiet over the unreality and insubstantial worth of ordinary life on its surface.

    Looks for anagogic or "inward" meanings, spiritual direction,
    truths to be "verified" in one's own meditative experience, methods or techniques to break through mundane "unconsciousness," and persons who model the mystical quest-as well as rationales for mystical quest as a means to at-onement with ultimate realityo.

    Tbe absolute subjecf, the beyond within°, the still center of the turning world, utterly unconditioned realityo, beyond all appearances, beneath egoistic consciousness, the unitive contemplation of which is utter bliss, the Beatific Vision°.

    Reasoned Inquiry

    Things that don't make sense, lack explanation, and, if unanswered, threaten to undermine the ultimate sense of things.

    Looks for clues to comprehension of the cognitive problems of life, adumbrations of rational argumentation and of a comprehensive and systematic world view, and persons who model the way of wisdom-as well as rationales for (and promise oO reasoned inquiry as a means to at-onement with ultimate realityo.

    Realityo, Trutho, Wisdomo, Omniscienceo (knowing of all things), Logos" or Reason° (ground of intelligibility and rationality), the source and ground of the rational order ofthe cosmos".

    This page titled 3.3: Six Hermeneutical Orientations is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Dale Cannon (Independent) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.