Hermeneutics of Terrorism

On the relevance of sensational media reports in the wake of religious terrorism, the lack of critical thinking, anthropologist Talal Asad (CUNY) remarks on contemporary terrorism,

To take people in familiar situations innocently is to live without suspicion. It is to read people literally, to take their behavior as unproblematic, as harmless. To do a literal reading of texts (of what people say and do in their ordinary life) is not, of course, to repudiate figurative language; it is to be so familiar with the relevant grammar that one is unconcerned with the need to fix meaning. On the other hand, to ask suspiciously about the real meaning of the verbal and behavioral signs displayed by people one knows is to enter into the world of symbolic interpretation. And while hermeneutics doesn’t necessarily spring from hostile suspicion, it always presupposes that what appears on the surface is not the truth and seeks to control what lies beneath. Through interpretation, it converts absences into signs.

Source: On Suicide Bombing (The Wellek Library Lectures).

Also, see Asad’s earlier talk on Thinking about Religion, Secularism and Politics in UC Berkeley’s Conversation with History, here.


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