Hermeneutics, Suspicion, and Generosity

A neat concise definition of the “hermeneutic of suspicion” offered by feminist theologian Corinna Guerrero today:

Essentially, a hermeneutic of suspicion identifies the disconnect between rhetoric and a lived reality. The lived lives of women are different than the pontifications espoused directly and indirectly by the traditionally patriarchal social, political, cultural, religious, and educational structures in which individuals participate.

I normally hear this term defined over against a “hermeneutic of trust” (with regard to scriptural texts, for example), but in the course of the story she tells and the feminist critique she applies to it, Ms. Guerrero observes that “With regard to fairness, every good hermeneutic of suspicion should be tethered at some point to a hermeneutic of generosity”.

This is a term I’d never heard before, but she helpfully linked to a blog post on the topic by Mother Beth Tjoflat:

In Mountains Beyond Mountains, a biographic portrayal of Partners In Health (PIH) founder Dr. Paul Farmer, Tracy Kidder speaks of the hermeneutics of generosity — or the shorthand “H of G” — for PIH lingo that involves interpreting the intentions, statements and actions of others in a positive, favorable light.

(Mother Beth adds, ‘In this time of contentious political and religious banter and overly abundant, far-reaching reactive communication via “social” media and 24/7 news, we would be well served to employ a hermeneutic of generosity.’ Amen to that!)

I’m glad to have learned a concise term for what I’ve generally described as “giving people the benefit of the doubt” or “presuming the good will of everyone involved.” I note that this describes the manner in which Roman Catholics are to approach texts from the magisterium (the bishops, the Pope, the Curia): with the presumption of good will.

I thank both women for their posts. These two terms give me a helpful framework with which to approach such texts, whether written, oral, or enacted: both with the hermeneutic of generosity that is not only expected of me, but that opens the way to the authentic, sisterly and brotherly ecclesial discourse that the church so desperately needs; and with the hermeneutic of suspicion that tethers such discourse to the truth of my experience, to the lived reality of women (and everyone else outside the kyriarchy) in the church and in the world.

May the Holy Spirit gift the whole church with such generosity, with such suspicion, with wisdom, and with truth. Amen.

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8 Responses to Hermeneutics, Suspicion, and Generosity

  1. Thanks for your reflection and for the “shout out”!

  2. Corinna Guerrero says:

    thank you for your perspective and hope for our Church. blessings. AMDG. — Corinna

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