The AS RS OCR DCT specification says that you need to know about the process, purpose and function of liberation hermeneutics. Specifically, the hermeneutical circle and the hermeneutic of suspicion. You need to know about liberation theologians interpretation of the bible and be able to discuss key texts used by liberation theologians (in particular the Exodus). You should be able to explain how hermeneutics is used in conscientisation.
Hermeneutics is the art of understanding a text.
The methods liberation theologians use to interpret the Bible include:
Academic liberation theology was done later (by the likes of Boff, Gutierrez, Sobrino and Segundo but their hermeneutics followed rather than led the practical experience. Gutierrez distinction between first step praxis (engaging with the situation) and second step praxis (producing theology) emphasised that theology should be done in the light of experience.
The purpose of liberative hermeneutics was put very succinctly by Boff. He wrote
The point of liberative hermeneutics was to produce good theology, specific to the situation that would be relevant and helpful to the people. It has a practical rather than a theoretical focus and was intended to be useful in a pastoral context. Boff specified that this way of doing theology is not the only one, nor necessarily the best one. However, the though it was the one best suited to the circumstances.
Liberative hermeneutics function within the second judging mediation (also called the hermeneutic mediation). Their role is to make clear God's judgement on the specific situation by comparing the people's circumstances to relevant Biblical teachings.
The judging mediation occurs between the seeing mediation and the acting mediation and it is important to understand how the mediations work together.
Jon Segundo believed that there is no such thing as a neutral reading to the bible as 'anything and everything involving ideas, including theology, is intimately bound up with the existing social situation in at least an unconscious way'. He described it as naive to believe that it was even possible for 'the word of God [to be] applied to human realities inside some antiseptic laboratory that is totally immune to the ideological tendencies and struggle of the present day.' For this reason he thought that theology should begin with a hermeneutic of suspicion.
The hermeneutic of suspicion was developed by French philosopher Paul Ricoeur. He was not a liberation theologian.
Ricoeur (like Segundo) recognised that all interpretations of texts are subjective and influenced by factors like the interpreter's own ideological outlook, background, agenda etc. Ricoeur said 'if it is true that there is always more than one way of construing a text, it is not true that all interpretations are equal.' He thought that when a reader approaches a text they should be 'suspicious' of previous interpretations. In other words, they should try to identify why the text has been interpreted in that particular way.
In other words, they do not automatically accept the interpretation but instead they look for how and why it came about.
In the context of liberation theology, use of the hermeneutic of suspicion might include questioning why the revolutionary potential of Jesus' message has not been made more apparent.
The hermeneutic circle was originally developed by Schleiermacher but was redeveloped by Segundo along slightly different lines. For Schleiermacher, the hermeneutic circle described the interplay between the parts of the text and the whole. The task of interpretation is circular (i.e. never ending) because every addition to your understanding of one aspect might affect your understanding somewhere else.
Segundo agreed that the task of interpretation was never ending, but he was more interested in the dialectical relationship between the world and the text. He defined the hermeneutic circle as:
For Segundo, the interpretation of the Bible changes as the situation changes. The Biblical stories are relevant in different ways in different situations. The way liberation theologians read the story of the Exodus might be very different to the way Christians in Britain read the story and what they get out of it in each instance will depend on its relevance to them.
The relationship between the Bible and the situation can be described as dialectical. Bible and world are in a conversation with each other.
For liberation theologians who use the Bible as part of the hermeneutic (judging) mediation, the Biblical teachings are intended to result in change. God's judgement is found in the stories and this is then acted upon.
The story of the Exodus is described in the Biblical book of the same name. It tells of the God's people the (Hebrews (later to become the Israelites) who were enslaved by the Egyptians and cruelly treated by their oppressors. According to the Bible God heard their cries and felt concerned for them. He called Moses to lead the people out of slavery to the promised land. God then sent Moses to ask Pharaoh to free the people. When Pharaoh refused God sent plagues on the land of Egypt (including plagues of frogs, locusts, the Nile turning to blood and the death of the firstborn) demanding 'let my people go'. The Pharaoh freed the people and the Hebrews set off. However, the Pharaoh soon changed his mind and sent the army after the fleeing Hebrews. Caught between the Red Sea and the approaching chariots Moses held his staff over the sea which passed. The Hebrews walked through and God then closed up the sea on the Egyptian army. The Exodus led to forty years in the wilderness before God eventually led them to Canaan a 'land of milk and honey'.
The significance of the story for liberation theology is that there are many examples of a correspondence of terms between the situation of the Latin American poor and the Egyptians.
God's action in the story is very significant:
The story offers a promise of hope
Old Testament prophets like Amos, Hosea, Isaiah and Ezekiel often passed down God's judgement on human affairs. The prophets make clear that God does not approve of exploitation, injustice or abuse of power and he will act to punish the perpetrators of such things. The prophets stress the idea that the privileged in society have a social responsibility and a duty particularly to the vulnerable.
The Magnificat is a song that Mary is said to have sung after receiving Gabriel's message. Mary affirms that God acts on behalf of the weak and elevates them whilst bringing down the powerful. Thus the themes of reversal and preference for the poor can be found within it.
According to Luke's gospel Jesus read from the scroll of Isaiah. This scroll contained a prophecy about what the Messiah would do.
Christians regard this as being Jesus applying the prophecy to himself, implying that he was indeed the Messiah.
Liberation theologians would say that this speaks of a very particular type of Messiah. This Messiah comes across as a social revolutionary engaged in providing practical help for the oppressed. Moreover, the emphasis on this scripture being fulfilled today could be used to argue that Jesus intended to bring about change in the earthly realm.
The book of Revelations is found at the very end of the New Testament. It is an apocalyptic book which means it is all about what will happen at the end of the world. The book describes a vision of the end of the world in which a new heaven and a new earth are established and all suffering is wiped out.
Evaluation in this section is likely to focus on whether or not the liberation theologians approach to the Bible is a good or valid one. There are various features of their approach that may be thought problematic.