Theological interpretation and inculturation Hermeneutics: a comparison, with special reference to the work of Justin Ukpong and the scripture project.
Isingoma, Brooke Burris.
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Grant LeMarquand in his 2006 essay, “Siblings or Antagonists? The Ethos of Biblical Scholarship from the North Atlantic and African Worlds”1 observes some of the differences and respective challenges facing biblical studies on each side of the Atlantic. He summarizes that “African biblical studies with its much more pragmatic concern for the present world appears to be at odds with North Atlantic scholarship.”2 LeMarquand suggests, however, that, “Justin Ukpong’s ‘inculturation hermeneutic’ provides a model that may help North Atlantic and African scholars to begin a conversation about ways the Bible can and should be read in and for the 21st century world.”3 This thesis pursues LeMarquand’s suggestion, bringing Ukpong’s work on inculturation hermeneutics into conversation and comparison with North American scholarship, and more specifically with theological interpretation in The Art of Reading Scripture, a compilation volume that emerged out of the Scripture Project at the Center for Theological Inquiry in Princeton. The Scripture Project included several respected scholars, and the Nine Theses on the Interpretation of Scripture that begin the volume are generally accepted as a summary description of theological interpretation. Hans Georg Gadamer’s philosophical hermeneutics undergird a dialogical approach in comparing Ukpong’s African inculturation hermeneutics with theological interpretation in The Art of Reading Scripture. The thesis makes use of Gadamer’s notion of horizons, exploring the prejudices and perspectives both bring to the biblical text and how these shape the approach and outcomes of interpretation. The thesis argues that there are significant similarities and differences between inculturation hermeneutics and the theological interpretation of the Scripture Project, such that dialogue between the two is instructive for each in areas of agreement and in areas of challenge. Jonathan Draper’s and Gerald West’s work on tripolar models of reading is helpful for analysis of the dialogue in the area of conceptual framework, and chapter six gets at the crux of the differences between the two, examining the motivations, commitments, and goals of each dialogue partner. While the dialogue partners share some general sensibilities and orientations, the chapter traces the origins of both models to an epistemological crisis in their respective historical moments; emerging out of different histories and contexts, the two inhabit different worlds from their beginnings. There is space for learning and appreciation between the two, as each offers insights and perspectives the other may not have on its own. There is especially a lot for the Scripture Project, as the dialogue partner in the center, to consider when brought into conversation with inculturation hermeneutics, a model formed and used in the margins.