In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Hermeneutics

  • Introduction
  • Anthologies
  • Journals and Online Resources

Literary and Critical Theory Hermeneutics
Stanley E. Porter
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 June 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190221911-0125


Hermeneutics is a complex multidisciplinary field, because it lies firmly situated at the intersection of a confluence of historical and conceptual factors and is pertinent to virtually any academic area concerned with theories of meaning. The major touchpoints of hermeneutics are its close relationship to philosophy, its origins in textual interpretation, its pertinence for literary and critical theory, and its influence upon a range of disciplines extending beyond just the human sciences, where hermeneutics is often seen to originate. Even though the origins of hermeneutics are in philosophy—it is arguably a form of contextualized critical philosophy—its earliest modern manifestations were directly related to the interpretation of the Bible. Biblical interpretation goes back as early as the Bible itself and developed through the early church, the medieval period and its fourfold sense of the Bible, through the Protestant Reformation and rise of historical criticism. This development provided the basis of modern hermeneutics. J. C. Dannhauer was apparently the first person to use the term hermeneutics as a term, by which he meant “interpretation” focused upon the Bible (see Dannhauer, Hermeneutica sacra sive methodus exponendarum sacrarum litterarum, 1654). For some, hermeneutics is still equated with interpretation as method or practice, even if more recent hermeneutical thought, especially in philosophical hermeneutics, has attempted to move past questions of method. A workable definition of hermeneutics is that it is concerned with theories of understanding, especially, although not exclusively, the understanding of written texts, hence its importance for literary and critical theory, even though hermeneutics is sometimes seen to be less important in light of developments in post-structuralism (see Kalaga 2015). This bibliography makes a distinction between philosophical hermeneutics (upon which there is a separate Oxford Bibliographies Online article by Kristin Gjesdal, titled “Hermeneutics”) and literary hermeneutics, included within this bibliography. There is obvious overlap between the two based upon the origin and nature of hermeneutics. As a result, even though hermeneutics plays a role in any discipline that raises questions of understanding, whether these questions are about the natural world, humans, society, or any of its practices and beliefs, it should occupy a central role in literary theory and interpretation.

Introductions and Handbooks to Hermeneutics

One of the best ways of becoming familiar with hermeneutics is to read one of the many introductions or handbooks to hermeneutics. The basic contours of the discipline are generally consistently represented in such introductions and handbooks. Discussions of hermeneutics tend to focus upon the major hermeneuts, while handbooks often treat such figures and a variety of topics.

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