How to Read a Religious Text

How to Read a Religious Text - How to Read a Religious Text...

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How to Read a Religious Text (Academically) Reading and interpreting accurately a religious text is perhaps one of the most difficult tasks for honest literary critics. The process may even be dangerous, and has been in some historical cases when attempted by poorly trained or politically zealous scholars. In the following handout, I hope to spell out for you the difficulties scholars face and the strategies they use when interpreting religious texts academically. 1.0 What is a “religious text?”: Just about every religion has written works which are “special” to its community of faithful followers. Religious practitioners read these texts, study them, memorize them, hear them in gatherings with fellow believers and teach them to their children. The most recognizable of these texts are thousands of years old, handed down meticulously by scribes whose major purpose in life was to preserve these writings for future repetition. Often, these writings are considered foundational by their respective religious communities. Many base all of their religious laws, cultures, ethics and philosophy on the literal words inscribed on the pages of their ancient books. In the most simplistic sense, "religious texts" are written works that are considered spiritually authoritative by a "religious group." 1.1 Confessional interpretation: A stark difference exists between the academic and devotional approaches to scriptural interpretation. The confessional approach is intended to satisfy an emotive or psychological need in a community of believers, to reaffirm the beliefs that define them as a community. Most popularly, this process involves a believer hearing scripture (or reading it) and attempting to apply it to their lifestyle in a practical way. In other cases, the confessional approach may mimic the "reader response" method of literary criticism in which the individual reader discerns a special meaning for themselves without being bothered by "outside facts." In some cases confessional interpretations follow the traditions of ancient scholars uncritically, handing them down to the next generation without challenging them. 1.2 How the academy is different: Academicians and religious practitioners disagree about the origin of religious texts and beliefs. Devotees of most monotheistic religions believe that their religious texts originated in the mind of God, who inspired particular people to record these words in writing (or just to recite them) through some sort of revelation. This view seems rather nearsighted in scope, reflecting centuries of uncritical acceptance. For instance, a popular theological position among American “Evangelical” and “Fundamentalist” Christians is that every word in the Bible was inspired by God and is therefore infallibly true. Such a point of view ignores the fact that the Bible was actually written by diverse people (with a variety of perspectives) over a span of more than a thousand years. Many of the biblical writings bear the marks of editors, even
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This note was uploaded on 04/13/2009 for the course RELIGION deathdying taught by Professor Kimelawson during the Spring '09 term at Temple.

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How to Read a Religious Text - How to Read a Religious Text...

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