On the methodological approach of Joachim Wach to hermeneutics


This contribution to our critical evaluation of the methodology of Joachim Wach was published in the Zeitschrift für Religions- und Geistesgeschichte 30 (1978): 68-71. It took the form of a review, but likewise it presented an own hermeneutical position.

The Ph. D. dissertation of Charles M. Wood, defended at Yale University in 1972, was published by the American Academy of Religion and Scholars Press in 1975. Wood, in his dissertation, confronted the hermeneutics of Joachim Wach with the late speech logic of Wittgenstein. To do this he discussed extensively contributions of American and of continental European philosophers. Wood was aware, of course, of the close relationship of Wach to Wilhelm Dilthey, as is evident in the three volumes of his monumental work: Joachim Wach, Das Verstehen: Grundzüge einer Geschichte der hermeneutischen Theorie im 19. Jahrhundert (Tübingen: Mohr, 1926-1933). “The history of hermeneutics in any given field, according to Wach is always the history of the relationship of that field to philosophy.” (Charles M. Wood, Theory and Religious Understanding: A Critique of the Hermeneutics of Joachim Wach – AAR Dissertation Series 12; American Academy of Religion and Scholars Press: Missoula, Montana, 1975, p. 27).

The position of Wach may be described as a reception of the “emergent evolution” of Lloyd Morgan, of Samuel Alexander, of Alfred North Whitehead, of William Temple (p. 44). His central thesis: “Nur, wenn ich ganz ich selbst bin, kann ich das Fremde verstehen.”

I, on my part, insisted on the need of deconstructing an original strangeness when observing religious phenomena, a strangeness which receives perspective not before an own point of time is established for observation (Eberhard W. Güting, Wallenhorst).

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