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English puritans and german pietists : a re-examination of precritical interpretation in light of the anthropocentric turn in hermeneutics Zimmermann, Jens


The purpose of this study is to integrate the hermeneutics of English Puritanism and German Pietism into the current hermeneutical debate. Opposing a pre-critical worldview to Charles Taylor's concept of a "silent" universe, this study argues that pre-critical hermeneutics derives from its biblical framework a moral strength and confidence which is lacking in modern philosophical hermeneutics. By analyzing the writings of Matthias Flacius (Illycrius), William Perkins, John Owen, Philipp Jacob Spener, August Hermann Francke, Friedrich Schleiermacher, Hans-Georg Gadamer and Charles Taylor, this study sketches an increasing slide into subjectivism within the field of hermeneutics. This anthropocentric turn is accompanied by an increasingly secular reinterpretation of precritical concepts. Philosophical hermeneutics tries to overcome radical subjectivism, but does so by appealing to secularized versions of pre-critical assumptions whose foundations it no longer acknowledges. This development lies at the root of philosophical hermeneutics' unsuccessful effort to overcome subjectivism and derive an applicatory ethical dimension from a non-theistic hermeneutic. This study also aims to expose common misconceptions about pre-critical hermeneutics. One common claim is that precritical hermeneutics did not problematize understanding itself, an insight attributed to Schleiermacher and Heideggerian ontological hermeneutics. Yet a close reading of Puritan and Pietist works shows that precritical hermeneutics went beyond merely devising technical rules for the removal of lexical and grammatical difficulties. Contrary to the claims of philosophical hermeneutics the Puritans and Pietists did perceive the difficulty of understanding ontologically. Their hermeneutics makes a claim to universal validity on the basis of a created universe and human depravity. Secondly, an assessment of the Puritan faith conceived as trust in a credible testimony dispels the common misconception of faith as irrational. The pre-critical idea of experiential knowledge as relational allows for a balance between propositional ('objective') and experiential (subjective) epistemological elements which is lacking in modern hermeneutics. Finally, the study shows that pre-critical hermeneuts were as aware of the perspectivism of all human knowledge, and of its conditioning by tradition, as the current hermeneutics of facticity. By re-admitting a neglected and misrepresented group of precritical writers this study attempts to renew the dialogue between theological and philosophical hermeneutics.

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