Volume 3, Issue 2, Autumn 2017
Approaches to Religion
‘Hermeneutik des Neuen’. Ruptures and Innovations of Religious Interpretation—Reflections from Indian Religious History
The Case of Bhakti
This paper discusses the Indian religious current known as bhakti, a cluster of movements and ideas with a long history traced back at least to the Bhagavad Gita, and confronts this case with problems debated in Western cultural hermeneutics. Bhakti is commonly seen as a devotional type of religiosity, opening up new dimensions of religious experience and inventing unconventional, even antinomian forms of expression; more recently, it has also been studied as a vehicle of religious individualization. The hermeneutical questions posed by this historical phenomenon have to do with both sides of the constellation known to social theorists as the double hermeneutic of social life, i.e. the meanings involved in and developed through the initiatives and exchanges of social actors, as well as the interpretive frameworks applied in scholarly analyses. The idea of social imaginaries constitutes a link between these two aspects. On both levels, the case of bhakti raises specific and central problems. It represents a particular pattern of orthodoxy and dissent, unfolding in contact and contest, and very different from the Western-based models of such configurations. For further hermeneutical reflection on this field, Paul Ricoeur’s philosophy—with its emphasis on translation and “oneself as another”—seems better equipped than Gadamer’s work, which in the last instance subordinates understanding of the other to self-understanding.