newmidterm date (posted 6 Oct. 2015)
new keep checking for schedule updates (posted 24 Sep. 2015)

It is not so very important for a person to learn facts. For that he does not really need a college. He can learn them from books. The value of an education in a liberal arts college is not the learning of many facts but the training of the mind to think something that cannot be learned from textbooks. (Albert Einstein, 1921, in response to Thomas Edison’s opinion that a college education is useless)

The growing precision of our understanding should enhance, and not diminish our sense of wonder. (Alfred Brendel)

In much wisdom is much vexation, and those who increase knowledge increase in sorrow. (Ecclesiastes 1.18)

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire. (William Butler Yeats)

You must unlearn what you have learned. (Yoda, Star Wars V: Empire Strikes Back)

The unexamined life is not worth living. (Socrates [Plato, Apology, 38a])

ΕΝ ΟΙΔΑ ΟΤΙ ΟΥΔΕΝ ΟΙΔΑ. (= Ἓν οἶδα ὅτι οὐδὲν οἶδα.; Socrates)

ΓΝĹΘΙ ΣΕΑΥΤΟΝ. (= Γνῶθι σεαυτόν.; Temple of Apollo at Delphi)

Il y a plus affaire ą interpréter les interprétations qu’ą interpréter les choses. (
Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, 1533–92)



Na home

Westminster College

REL 312H: Text and Meaning

Fall 2015

Welcome to Religion 312: Text and Meaning. Although designated as an advanced religion course because of its specialized topic, this is an introductory course on hermeneutics that can be useful for all majors and disciplines. Hermeneutics is an interdisciplinary study of the methodological principles of interpretation; hermeneutics examines how human beings experience the world and life as intelligible. We will ask fundamental questions regarding such intelligibility: What is a text? What is a context? What is language? What is meaning? Can everything we perceive be considered texts, including people and the world itself? What are the principles and methods of understanding the world of human “objects,” i.e., forms of human expression such as paintings, laws, literature, music, religions? (Click here for other questions.) Through posing hermeneutical questions, the coures will help you cultivate an understanding of our world and human expressions that is both critical and creative. No matter what your major or discipline, this course will benefit you and enable you to:

  • define what hermeneutics is and describe the scope of its concerns
  • compare Naturwissenschaften (natural sciences) and Geisteswissenschaften (human sciences)
  • explain what language is, especially when conceived as any symbolic world of expression or meaning (most significantly, though not limited to, written texts)
  • explain what it means to understand (and critique) human expressions (i.e., any objectifications of human culture, e.g., literature, paintings)
  • explain the hermeneutics of suspicion that penetrates into, below, or behind perceived phenomena (including written texts)
  • identify some significant thinkers and their contributions to the field of hermeneutics
  • identify major problems or issues in hermeneutics and explain their significance for Western civilization and for us
  • identify and explain methodological issues involved in hermeneutics in the light of so-called postmodernism
  • explain the nature and principles of interpretation, especially for critical application in various disciplines

Achieving these goals will require hard work on your part, which will bring many challenging, enlightening, exciting, frustrating, and rewarding experiences.

Accessibility Statement:

Westminster College actively strives for the full inclusion of all our students. Students with disabilities who require access solutions for environmental or curricular barriers should contact Faith Craig, Director of Disability Resources: 209 Thompson-Clark Hall; 724-946-7192;

 Requirements and evaluation for the course


For my criteria for evaluation of assignments go to Evaluation and read the information carefully.

If you have any questions about any assignment, please ask in class or make an appointment to see me.

If you have any questions about any evaluation or how you are doing in the course, please make an appointment to see me.




Assigned readings should be completed before the class for which they are assigned—use your best judgment to divide the readings evenly for each week. Occasionally I may assign additional readings, but these will ordinarily be short. You must come to class with at least 2 written questions or comments in response to the readings (see Participation). Cultivate the ability to ask informed questions about the readings based on the knowledge you gain along the way; the demonstration of your ability to formulate questions will affect the evaluation of your semester grade. Keeping notes on the readings is highly recommended. I would encourage you to use this form for every reading assignment (also on my.westminster).

Not all the assigned readings may be covered in class discussions or exams, but they are assigned for your edification toward achieving the goals of the course. The more you refer to them in class and in your work, the better your mastery of the readings and the higher your semester grade will be.



Classes will be conducted as quasi-seminars. The instructor will present some materials, but much of the class will be designated for discussion of the readings. You will prepare at least one 10-minute discussion starter during the semester presenting:

  • the main ideas or arguments of the reading assignments (see the course schedule below for the texts in bold to be presented)
  • your critique or response to it (including references to previous readings)—this should be the focus and main portion of the presentation
    • Include in your presentation critical questions, challenges, discoveries, insights, etc. that you encountered while, or after, reading the assignment—these will initiate class discussion following your presentation.

You are expected to have read the text(s) thoroughly and be able to share the penetrating questions or issues you dealt with in your reading, preparation, and further research. You do not have to understand everything before class, but you should demonstrate that you prepared and that you can discern and are familiar with the major issues in the text(s). Remember that questions are more valuable than answers.

Everyone is expected to do the preparatory work described above, not just the presenter.

See my Evaluation page under Presentations for evaluation criteria (do not be concerned about the “Communication Skills” section of the presentation evaluation page). If you wish to use a PowerPoint presentation or any AV equipment, let me know in advance.


You will submit at a research paper on a topic of your choice. The best topics would be those that relate your learning in the course to your major or discipline. (Click here for ideas. Click here for more ideas. Also see the bibliography here.)

Browse through the table of contents and index in the textbook for ideas or come up with your own topic for research. Make a preliminary list of 5–10 topics before discussing your choices with the instructor as early as possible (the earlier you do so, the earlier you will know how feasible your research paper will be). Whatever your topic and thesis, make sure that connections with course materials are evident in your final work. You may also find the Tips for writing papers helpful.

Make an appointment as early as you can in the semester to discuss (1) your paper idea and (2) your preliminary bibliography (bring a hard copy). The narrower and more specific your thesis—i.e., the argument you plan to make in your paper—the better.

  • The paper should consist of 2,000–3,000 words.
  • The paper should represent original work (i.e., your own thoughts), not a mere digest of other people's opinions. Your own reading and re-reading of the relevant texts, as well as review of other materials, are fundamental to the task. I want to know what you discover in your engagement with your topic, whether or not you agree with the course books, commentaries, or opinions presented in class, including mine.
    • Focus on honing your ability to argue for your opinions and conclusions by supporting them with evidence from texts (especially primary texts) and other relevant sources.
  • Your final bibliography (not just “works cited”) must contain at least 8 sources used in your paper, including 4 periodical (journal) articles. Electronic sources count only if you provide evidence that they are scholarly sources.
  • Use footnotes or endnotes to document your sources following the Chicago Manual of Style—for help: NoodleTools. Learn the automatic footnote (and endnote) function of your word processor.
  • Follow all the instructions given on my Evaluation page under Written assignments.

You may request permission to revise your paper after its evaluation. If you submit a revision, the final grade will be the average of the grades earned on the original and on the revision.


Throughout the semester, you will be responsible for learning significant terms covered in our texts or in class. You will be responsible for finding the definitions, e.g., using course texts (glossary, index) and resources listed in "Resources to consider" below. Try also reliable Web resources like the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. The terms may constitute a part of any quiz or exam.




The midterm exam will cover all the materials in the course we will have covered by the time of the exam (e.g., the reading assignments and terms). The final exam will cover the entire sweep of the course. There may be pop quizzes, the results of which will affect the evaluation of your participation. See my Evaluation page under Quizzes and examinations.

In lieu of the final exam, you may take a 30-minute oral exam. You must meet with me before November 10 to discuss this option.


Grades will be determined as fairly as possible. See my Evaluation page under Grades for more information. The final grade for the course will consist of the following:

• research paper


Participation is a significant part of this course.

See my Evaluation page under Participation

for more information and instructions.

final exam


midterm exam


• discussion starter(s)


• participation (including pop quizzes)




You may earn extra credit any time during the semester.

•   Submit a paper consisting of 700–1,000 words relating something from popular culture (e.g., movie, play, TV show, book, any performance) to a particular course topic (consult the instructor).

•   The paper should be mostly critique (not mere summary or description).


The instructor reserves the right to make the final determination concerning any extra credit. You can earn a maximum of 5% toward the final grade. You may write more than one, if you wish, but you will not receive more than 5% total in extra credit.


Required books

Grondin, Jean. Introduction to Philosophical Hermeneutics. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press,1994.


Recommended books (* = highly recommended)

Dilthey, Wilhelm. Introduction to the Human Sciences. Vol. 1 of Selected Works. Edited by Rudolf A. Makkreel and Frithjof Rodi. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989.

_____. Poetry and Experience. Vol. 5 of Selected Works. Edited by Rudolf A. Makkreel and Frithjof Rodi. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985.

Gadamer, Hans G. Philosophical Hermeneutics. Translated and edited by David E. Linge. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976.

* _____. Truth and Method. New York: Crossroad, 1989.

Heidegger, Martin. Sein und Zeit. Tübingen: Niemeyer, 1986; Being and Time. Translated by John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson. New York: Harper & Row, 1962.

* _____. On the Way to Language. Translated by Peter D. Hertz. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1971.

Makkreel, Rudolf A. Dilthey: Philosopher of the Human Studies. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992. (magisterial work; the definitive survey of Dilthey)

_____. Introduction to Descriptive Psychology and Historical Understanding, by Wilhelm Dilthey. Translated by R. M. Zaner and K. L. Heiges. The Hague: Nijhoff, 1977.

Müller-Vollmer, Kurt. The Hermeneutics Reader: Texts of the German Tradition from the Enlightenment to the Present. New York: Continuum, 1985.

* Palmer, Richard. Hermeneutics: Interpretation Theory in Schleiermacher, Dilthey, Heidegger, and Gadamer. Evanston: Northwestern Univ. Press, 1969.

Ricoeur, Paul. Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981.

* Strunk, William, Jr., and E. B. White. The Elements of Style. New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1979. (See my Resources page under Miscellaneous for the first edition of Strunk.)


Resources to consider

See my Resources page for helpful resources.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

R-drive: course folder and the “NaFiles” folder

Course pages on my.westminster


Keeping in touch

During the semester check your e-mail regularly for messages regarding course matters (e.g., changes in the syllabus). Visit and reload (refresh) this page for updates to the syllabus; see also my homepage for other information and resources related to the course. Please feel free to make an appointment any time about any course matters.


Tips from former students

For some practical advice from former students, see the tips page.


One last word . . .

Regardless of how demanding all of this is, I promise to be as fair as possible. I recognize that you will be very busy this semester pursuing various obligations and passions. I understand. I have my passions too, e.g., my family, music, philosophy, nature, mountain biking, fixing things, food. But I am also very passionate about education, both yours and mine—I mean not just the business of acquiring knowledge but more importantly the total development of honorable human beings. I do not require you to share my excitement about all the things we will cover, but I do expect you to do your best to complete the requirements for the course. To help you do that, I will make myself available outside the class time and the office hours. I will be glad to help you when you are struggling with an assignment. Or if you have any questions, concerns, complaints, and even compliments, I will do my best to take the time to listen and offer my response. Keep in mind that I am here to help you learn. So again, welcome to Religion 312: Text and Meaning.

Course schedule MWF 1250–1350     PH 328new

REL 312

= required

+ = in the library (Please do not check them out.)

bold = primary text(s) for presentation or class (discussion)

> = recommended / suggested

Week 1


Aug 31M

Sep 2

Sep 4

General orientation: What is hermeneutics? • Text, interpretation, meaningTime, space, world

Course syllabus (including Evaluation link; review requirements, expectations, and criteria for grading—ask Qs, if you have any)

Westminster College Mission Statement

Fisher: Effective Learning (pp. 3 & 6; also in Inquiry text)

Grondin: Foreword; Preface; Intro
>Hermeneutics (brief def & intro)

>Escher: Print Gellery (cool)
>Escher gallery (Escher collection)

World-view (ppt link)

Optical conditioning

Optical illusion

World-view (context & perspective)

my room (also here)

Number chaos-order

Context & perspective

What do you see?

Xmas Quiz

Greek NT: 1st page

Transmission errors



Week 2

Sep 7 M

Sep 9

Sep 11

Hermeneutics 101 (prehistory???)

Discussion Sep 11: Butler (Grondin or Droysen)

Grondin: Intro; 1.1–1.2

Droysen: “History and the Historical Method” (pp. 118–23)
Hermeneutics (brief def & intro)
>The Greeks (interactive site)
>Redaction & hermeneutics (funny & instructive)
>Manuscript (biblical text +)

Week 3

Sep 14 M

Sep 16

Sep 18

Hermeneutics 101

Sep 18: no class (work on paper topics, research)

Discussion Sep 14: Clough (Grondin or Ricoeur)

Discussion Sep 16: Gibbons (Grondin or Ricoeur)

Grondin: Intro; 1.3–1.8
Ricoeur: “What is a Text? Explanation and Understanding” (pp. 145–64)

Week 4

Sep 21 M

Sep 23

Sep 25

Hermeneutics 101

Discussion Sep 21: Lun (Grondin or Ricoeur)

Discussion Sep 23: Pusateri (Grondin or Droysen)

Discussion Sep 25: Zeigler (Grondin or Droysen)

Grondin: 2

Droysen: “The Investigation of Origins” (pp. 124–26), “The Modes of Interpretation” (pp. 126–31)

Gioia: "Words"; "Unsaid"

Week 5

Sep 28 M

Sep 30

Oct 2

Romantic Hermeneutics & Schleiermacher

Grondin: 3

Palmer, Hermeneutics:

Preface (PDF file)

chs. 1–3, 5 (Intro; Hermeneuein and Hermeneia; 6 Definitions; Meaning and Scopre of Hermeneutics)


general hermeneutics (pp. 72–86)

grammatical and technical interpretation (pp. 86–97)

Gioia: "Words"; "Unsaid"

hermeneutics for driving (laugh, then think about it)

Week 6

Oct 5 M

Oct 7

Oct 9

The Problems of Historicism

Discussion Oct 5: Butler (Grondin, Palmer, or Schleiermacher)

Discussion Oct 7: Clough (Grondin, Palmer, or Schleiermacher)

Discussion Oct 9: Gibbons Pusateri (Grondin, Palmer, or Schleiermacher)new

Grondin: 4
Palmer, Hermeneutics:
chs. 3, 5
Part 3: Preamble
chs. 13–14 (What Is Interpretation?; 30 Theses on Interpretation)


general hermeneutics (pp. 72–86)

grammatical and technical interpretation (pp. 86–97)

Week 7

Oct 12 M

Oct 14

Oct 16

Heidegger: Hermeneutics as the Interpretation of Existence

Discussion Oct 12: Lun (Grondin, Schleiermacher, or Dilithey)

Discussion Oct 14: Pusateri Gibbons (Grondin, Schleiermacher, or Dilithey)new

Discussion Oct 16: Zeigler (Grondin, Schleiermacher, or Dilithey)

Grondin: 5
Dilthey: “The Understanding of Other Persons and Their Expressions of Life” (read Dilthey's text first, p.123 ff.; then read Makkreel's intro)


general hermeneutics (pp. 72–86)

grammatical and technical interpretation (pp. 86–97)

a helpful reminder (cf. the fist week)

Week 8

Oct 19 M

Oct 21

Oct 23

Oct 24–27


Gadamer and the Universe of Hermeneutics

Oct 23: midtermnew

Grondin: 6

Dilthey: “The Understanding of Other Persons and Their Expressions of Life” (read Dilthey's text again, p.123 ff.)

Dilthey: handout of selections

Oct 23 (tentative): movie night with the Nas 7:47 PM-ish

Feel free to bring DVDs of movies you think your classmates should see. For directions click here.

Week 9

Oct 28 W

Oct 30

Nov 2

Hermeneutics in Dialogue

Grondin: 7; Afterword
Dilthey: handout of selections

Week 10

Nov 4 W

Nov 6

Nov 9

Heidegger: reframing Western philosophy

•Husserl: phenomenology
•Heidegger: metaphysics
•Heidegger: technology

Week 11

Nov 11 W

Nov 13

Nov 16

Gadamer: truth? method?

•Heidegger: handout of selections
•Gadamer: universality
•Gadamer: scope & function
•Gadamer: self-understanding + MORE

Week 12

Nov 18 W

Nov 20

Nov 23


Nov 25–29


Gadamer: truth? method?

•Gadamer: universality
•Gadamer: scope & function
•Gadamer: self-understanding + MORE

Week 13

Nov 30 M

Dec 2

Dec 4

St. Nicholaus

The meaning of understanding a text (in postmodernity)

•Gadamer: selections from Truth and Method
•Derrida: "'Genesis and Structure' and Phenomenology"; "Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences"

Week 14

Dec 7 M

Dec 9

Dec 11

Hermeneutics? • Final thoughts

•Derrida: "'Genesis and Structure' and Phenomenology"; "Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences"

Dec 16 W

F  i  n  a  l     e  x  a  m: 1130–1400 (regular classroom)



Na home

Without education we are in a horrible and deadly danger of taking educated people seriously. (G. K. Chesterton)

Health is merely the slowest possible rate at which one can die. (Anonymous)

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