Secularism and Hermeneutics

Secularism and Hermeneutics

Yael Almog

216 pages | 6 x 9
Cloth 2019 | ISBN 9780812251258 | $65.00s | Outside the Americas £54.00
Ebook editions are available from selected online vendors
A volume in the series Intellectual History of the Modern Age
View table of contents and excerpt

"Yael Almog explores the centrality of Biblical interpretation, in the critical period 1750-1850, to the shifting configuration of secularization, hermeneutics and politics. She convincingly shows through original and detailed studies of such figures as Herder, Mendelssohn, Heine, Hegel, and Schleiermacher, that the emergence of a new aesthetics derived from changing interpretations of the Old Testament and that, in turn, the advent of a new 'reader' was constitutive for the appearance of a new citizen."—David Sorkin, Yale University

"Yael Almog demonstrates a broad knowledge of the literature on the topic of secularization and hermeneutics and her analysis is clear, lively, and convincing. Her book is an original and significant contribution to the fields of religious studies, eighteenth- and nineteenth-century literature, intellectual history, and philosophical hermeneutics."—Jeffrey Andrew Barash, Université de Picardie, Amiens, France

"Secularism and Hermeneutics shows how the most important philosophers constructed or envisioned interpreters of the Bible and other texts in different movements and time periods. The tension Yael Almog describes between the reader as an individual and as a member of a political or religious collective is fascinating."—Abigail Gillman, Boston University

In the late Enlightenment, a new imperative began to inform theories of interpretation: all literary texts should be read in the same way that we read the Bible. However, this assumption concealed a problem—there was no coherent "we" who read the Bible in the same way. In Secularism and Hermeneutics, Yael Almog shows that several prominent thinkers of the era, including Johann Gottfried Herder, Moses Mendelssohn, Immanuel Kant, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, and Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher, constituted readers as an imaginary "we" around which they could form their theories and practices of interpretation. This conception of interpreters as a universal community, Almog argues, established biblical readers as a coherent collective.

In the first part of the book, Almog focuses on the 1760s through the 1780s and examines these writers' works on biblical Hebrew and their reliance on the conception of the Old Testament as a cultural, rather than religious, asset. She reveals how the detachment of textual hermeneutics from confessional affiliation was stimulated by debates on the integration of Jews in Enlightenment Germany. In order for the political community to cohere, she contends, certain religious practices were restricted to the private sphere while textual interpretation, which previously belonged to religious contexts, became the foundation of the public sphere. As interpretive practices were secularized and taken to be universal, they were meant to overcome religious difference. Turning to literature and the early nineteenth century in the second part of the book, Almog demonstrates the ways in which the new literary genres of realism and lyric poetry disrupted these interpretive reading practices. Literary techniques such as irony and intertextuality disturbed the notion of a stable, universal reader's position and highlighted interpretation as grounded in religious belonging.

Secularism and Hermeneutics reveals the tension between textual exegesis and confessional belonging and challenges the modern presumption that interpretation is indifferent to religious concerns.

Yael Almog is a faculty member in the Department of Theology at Goethe University, Frankfurt.

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