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The hermeneutic circle: a key to critical reading

By Anne-Laure Le Cunff

For a text to be interpreted, you need a text and an interpreter. This may seem obvious, but too often we forget that our interpretation of a text is shaped by our pre-existing beliefs, knowledge, and expectations. Hermeneutics is the branch of research that deals with interpretation. When we interpret a text, it’s not a linear process: it’s a cycle, which is called the hermeneutic circle.

Understanding the hermeneutic circle is key to critical reading. The hermeneutic circle refers to the idea that our understanding of a text as a whole is based on our understanding of each individual part, as well as our understanding of how each individual part refers to the whole text.

The hermeneutic circle doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to objectively interpret a text. Rather, it encourages us to try to understand what we read in the context of a cultural, historical, and literary context, along with our own personal context. So… How does it work?

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