Reading from above? – Searching for meaningful readings of the Bible from a Western middle-class perspective
by Jens Bjelland Grønvold
The starting point of Reading from above? – Searching for meaningful readings of the Bible from a Western middle-class perspective was the experiences of a frustrated Bible study group in Norway. Inspired by the currents of Liberation theology, we had attempted reading the Bible from the perspective of the poor and marginalized people, even though we were ourselves not poor, and neither are the vast majority of people in Norway. The consequence was a frustration due to the fact that our own experiences were disregarded when we read the Bible, simply because we were middle-class people. Finally, we decided to put away the Bible, so that we could address issues in our own lives. In response to this, this thesis aims at bridging the gap that had opened between the biblical texts and the lives of what in a Norwegian context are ordinary, middle-class readers. The means utilized in the attempt is autobiographical hermeneutical method – a way of reading texts explicitly subjective, in relation to one’s own life experiences. However, for a theological student familiar with Liberation theology, facilitating the readings of people who would consider themselves neither poor nor marginalized cannot be done without discussing the reasons and ramifications of doing so. Therefore, the problems that this thesis discusses are:
• In what way can autobiographical hermeneutical method become a resource for the not poor, not marginalized, not oppressed reader of the Bible?• In what way can a method explicitly facilitating and making heard the interpretations of middle-class people relate to the hermeneutics of liberation that has been produced in Third World contexts?
The thesis is divided into five chapters. Chapter 1 explains the background for the problems, both personally and historically, before the problems are articulated at the end. Chapter 2 seeks to answer the first problem in theory. Firstly, it points to the narrative theory of Paul Ricoeur, in which the idea is that for all people, narratives are resources for existential interpretation of life. Secondly, it introduces autobiographical hermeneutical method as the prolonged arm of Ricoeur’s theories. Reading autobiographically, we are making visible the processes that Ricoeur claimed was in play in every reading of a narrative. Chapter 3 moves on to answer the first problem in practice. In it, a project is presented in which the Bible reading group read Old Testament stories utilizing autobiographical hermeneutics. The evaluations of the participants make it clear that the project resulted in deeply meaningful readings. Chapter 4 attempts at answering the second problem. In it, the data of the Bible reading project is utilized as background information for a dialogue with liberation theologians on relationship between the project and a traditional hermeneutics of liberation.
The result has become a thesis that both shows a way of reading texts in the Bible in practice, and engages in a theological dialogue about the implications of how we choose to read the Bible. Hopefully, it can serve as an inspiration to people who relate to the same problems, in the continued search for meaningful life interpretation and readings of the Bible.