Phenomenology and Hermeneutics are concepts that are as ancient and central to Islamic perception of interpretation as they are handy in their explanation of what constitutes understanding of interpretation.
In delineating their central meanings therefore it is imperative to have methodologies that are extensive in their content acquisition and thorough in their clarity since phenomenology and hermeneutics are theories that are deeply seated in the concept of understanding and interpretation; concepts that are central to the previous and current philosophical perception of understanding.
These are the discussions that inform the contents of this paper as the two theories are delved into, their explanation through the eyes of different authorities discussed and differences between them analyzed as well as discussing different hermeneutics methods used in Islam.
Academic work often requires the undertaking of research either scientific research or Historical research depending on the nature of research under consideration. The scientific research depends on experimentation to determine the answers to questions being researched. On the other hand the historical research depends on the past documented results in the quest to answer the research questions.
The historical research may involve discussing originators of your ideas, the time frames, location and context of the idea and the new evidence you have gathered in a view to answer the research questions (Köchler 1997).
According to Laverty (2003) many fields of academic research have used empirical or quantitative methods which heavily rely on accessible observable aspects. However the limitation of logical-empirical based research methods has contributed to the growth of qualitative research methodologies (Laverty 2003).
The emphasis on empirical based research was on ‘discovery, description and meaning’ (Stanford University 2003). This was sharply contrasting to the emerging research needs such as ‘prediction, control and measurement’ (Laverty 2003). It is this context that has seen use of several methodologies such as phenomenology and hermeneutic phenomenology among others.
In addition to this, research methodologies for papers that are involved with collection of data from which conclusions are drawn usually divides them into primary data and secondary data. Each research objective therefore utilizes varying proportions of each form of data (Mantzavinos 2001).
Köchler (1997) states that a descriptive survey approach is used to study, describe, explore and analyze relationships among geographically gathered subjects. Thus a survey was the most appropriate method to capture and compare the characteristics of small businesses in Dubai.
In the selfsame way, a research paper may adopt a quantitative approach, as economic parameters can be assessed using empirical data (Köchler 1997). Therefore a quantitative approach is best suited to meeting the research objectives, as it aims at gathering, analyzing and measuring data from a large sample to test the relation between different variables.
Stratified and simple random sampling procedures can be used in selecting the study sample. Stratified random sampling also ensures subgroups in the population were proportionally represented while simple random sampling was used to select respondents within the subgroups entirely on the basis of chance.
Primary and secondary data are usually also collected and primary data can be collected by questionnaires, which may include structured and unstructured questions, and interviews, which are used to collect data immediately.
Secondary data can be collected through a review of published and unpublished materials, such as articles, seminar papers, government policy papers, conference proceedings, business journals, textbooks, statistical abstracts, newspapers and periodicals. Secondary sources are useful as the suggestions of different authors on the research topic could be adopted and/or modified to recommend the way forward for the topic of interest.
Upon completion of collection of data using the above methodologies, the main data obtained is coded into some analyzing software such as SPSS statistical software which is used for analyzing the data so as to present it more clearly and make conclusions and inferences (Mantzavinos 2001).
Phenomenology and Hermeneutics
Hermeneutics can also be defined simply as the theory of understanding or interpretation. As will be indicated later on in the paper, according to Stanford University (2003) phenomenology has been defined as the study of structure of conscious experiences from a subjective first person perspective within relevant enabling conditions.
There were several factors that contributed to the general understanding of the theories some which are captured below:
Identification of tradition – it was the Aristotelian rhetorical tradition that set the foundation of the understanding of these theories and in modern times, Clavis Scripturae Sacrae of Flacius Matthias’ (1657) has been credited with laying the foundational understanding of the concept of interpretation.
In his book, Matthias argued for instance that when the understanding of scripture was hard, teaching was the approach that was taken to resolve the standoff and not merely ecclesial pronouncement (Mantzavinos 2001).
Classical Philology – renaissance was a concept that drew a lot of attention to discovery of classical texts. With these discoveries, it was imperative to read whatever fragments that had been obtained and try to make meaning of them which heavily depended on proper understanding of the tenets of interpretation (Mantzavinos 2001).
Jurisprudence – this was mostly overt during the 533 BC attempt to harmonize judicial systems of the early world mainly the Roman’s Code of Justinian. This attempt let to the need of there being proper understanding of what interpretation really constituted (Mantzavinos 2001).
Philosophy – the concept of hermeneutics specifically was greatly introduced into human philosophical understanding and argument when philosophy had a glimpse into human experience. It was created at a time when there was a bloom in the search of knowledge and understanding and many scholars derived and invented theories to explain different human phenomena.
This spree to understanding brought a lot of jostling and argument which then necessitated the need to have a generalized way of interpretation of the many theories and philosophies that were being surmised (Mantzavinos 2001).
According to Stanford University (2003) phenomenology has been defined as the study of structure of conscious experiences from a subjective first person perspective within relevant enabling conditions. A conscious experience is thought to be two pronged consisting of an object and a subject (Mantzavinos 2001).
The object acts on a subject. It emphasizes on the appearance of things in our conscious or experiences. Conscious experiences are determined by the ability to be aware of the experiences. They can either be passive experiences or active experiences.
Critical to these subjective experiences is the aspect of intentionality of the experiences in their direction towards an object (Stanford University 2003). The key elements of phenomenology include the subjective first-person perspective of the experiences, the consciousness of those experiences and the intentionality of the experiences (Stanford 2003).
Franz Brentano one of the most prominent phenomenologist conceptualized phenomenology in distinguishing mental awareness from non-mental awareness. In this context intentionality of the conscious experiences is the hallmark of mental awareness.
The intentionality of the conscious experiences contextualized in reflective analysis may involve temporal awareness, spatial awareness, self-awareness, awareness of self in different roles among other reflective analysis awareness (Stanford University, 2003). There are conditions that nurture the intentionality of the conscious experiences such as social cultural background, language, among others (Stanford University 2003).
In the context of human sciences research phenomenology distinguishes appearances from essence (Phenomenology online 2010). It attaches importance to the nature and meaning of something thus deviating from empirical observations (Phenomenology online 2010). It replaces the theoretical empirical observations with the conscious experiences from the subjective first person perspective.
Hermeneutics can be defined as the theory, art and practice of interpretation of texts with a view of understanding them (Phenomenology online 2010). Hermeneutics is widely used in the study of religious and classical texts where there maybe misunderstanding.
The interpretation of text was considered in three ways. “The hermeneutic of the letter involved the grammatical interpretation of the text while the interpretation of the subject matter of the text is referred to as the hermeneutic of the sense” (Phenomenology online 2010, p.1). The hermeneutic of the spirit considers the context in which the author wrote the text.
On the other hand Hermeneutic phenomenology encompasses both the hermeneutic methodology and the phenomenology methodology. This methodology interprets the experiences.
Examination prominent phenomenology viewpoints
Wilhelm Dilthey considered the understanding of a text as an understanding of the expression of lived experience (Phenomenology online 2010). He reject the linguisticality hypothesis that separated the linguistic aspects of humanity from its understanding and interpretation.
He held the notions that the expression of linguistic aspects of humanity that is speaking and hearing or writing and reading is a continuous process with the understanding and interpretation of the subject of the linguistic expressions. The expression and the understanding takes place simultaneously.
Hans-Georg Gadamer views the interpretation and the meaning of a text as inseparable. He further argues that understanding of a text is achieved from a specific interpretation of a text. The language is considered as a medium in which understanding occurs and as such they are intertwined.
Gadamer attached great importance to the conditions that may affect the interpretation of a given text such as social cultural background (Laverty 2003). Interpretation is seen as bridging the gap between the meaning of the text and the expectation of the interpreter in relation to the text.
He advocates for the questioning of the meaning of the text in coming with different interpretation in a process that one may be detached from the author’s intended message. He views understanding a text to be more than reconstructing the author’s thoughts but a process that one must relate with his own experiences (Laverty 2003).
The interpretation of the text is done from three dimensions; historical, philological –literary and dogmatic dimensions. The philological dimension may involve the provisions of language structure while the dogmatic dimensions may involve coming up with a new interpretation of the text.
Paul Ricoeur is widely credited with linking of the Hermeneutics and phenomenology methodologies. Paul Ricoeur’s thoughts are captured in some of his works such as ‘The conflicts of interpretation’, ‘Interpretation theory’ and ‘Interpretation and ideologies’.
The similarities and differences between Hermeneutics and Phenomenology
Both the phenomenology and hermeneutic phenomenology are derivatives of Germany philosophy intended to overcome the limitations of empirical scientific research (Laverty 2003). The two methodologies question the scientific view of the world from a Cartesian dualism perspective which split the body from the mind. Both view the body and mind as one whole.
Differences between the phenomenology and hermeneutics occur in epistemological, methodological and ontological perspectives. Phenomenology examines the correlation of the knower and study object (Masson 2008).
The hermeneutics on the other hand focuses on the nature of reality of the subject matter. While the phenomenology provides for bracketing that is the separation of an individual from the experiences he undergoes hermeneutics doesn’t make this distinction (Peirce 1958).
The differences in the phenomenological and hermeneutics as research methodologies are several. Phenomenological research describes the meaning of the experiences while hermeneutics traces the development of the effects of the experiences on human from a historical perspective (Laverty 2003).It interprets the historical meaning of the experiences while the phenomenological research describes it.
The phenomenology research is foundationalist in nature as it seeks interpretation of text independent of the interpreter’s social cultural position while the hermeneutic research takes this position into play (Laverty 2003).
Hermeneutics methods in Islamic studies
Al-Ghazali developed rules of reading the Quran that would enhance the interpretation of text and hence its understanding (Kamal 2004). The study of Islamic hermeneutics is contextualized in two forms. The first school of thought holds that Quran can be independently read without the aid of previous interpretations by different scholars while the second school of though holds the contra (Kamal 2004).
The author of a revealed sacred book such as Quran is devoid of historical, space and time conditions which contrast’s to the reader who is bound by these conditions (Kamal 2004). The holy Quran gives conditions of which it must read by specifying that the believer must be clean.
In warning against contravention of this rule it may induce fear (Kamal 2004). Other conditions imposed in the reading of the Quran is the Prophet Muhammad’s traditions, conditions in the Quran itself and the opinions of the early generations of Muslims (Kamal 2004). Kamal (2004) examines on whether these conditions do affect the hermeneutics of which the Quran is considered as opposed to any other ordinary text.
Several factors influenced Al-Ghazali in his development of the standard rules of reading Quran including the scholar’s of his time, Islam dogmatic doctrines and rational (Masson 2008). He examined every doctrine available rejecting those he found inadequate forming a ground new ways of treating the subject matter.
He faced epistemological challenges in his treatment of empirical aspects of his work. He rejected rationalism and considered reason insufficient in the understanding of the meaning of Quran (Kamal 2004). It is in this context that he considered God as ‘primarily will rather than logos (Knowledge)’ (Kamal 2004).
According to Kamal (2004) Al-Ghazali’s hermeneutic position can be perceived in the following ways. In the understanding of the Quran the hermeneutic is devoid of any preconceptions and rules and gives provision for both explicit and implicit meaning of the text. “It also allows for emotional adjustments to the reading of the Quran as well as mystical aspect in the interpretation of the Quran” (Kamal 2004, p. 41).
Al-Ghazali set several conditions for the proper understanding of the Quran. He advocates the reading of the Quran free from the external influences such as religious commentaries, and religious school’s dogmas and commonly held interpretation of the verses. He also advocates the freeing of the mind and body from sin and worldly possession desires (Kamal 2004).
According to Kamal (2004) the interpretation of the Quran is tied to five different levels of awareness or existence. These include sensory, analogical, essential, mental and imaginative. These five dimensions are critical in the textual interpretation and consequently understanding of the Quran according to Al-Ghazali (Kamal 2004).
The essential existence refers to the existence that is beyond humanly understanding of which he can only relate to in form of images. These may include concepts that may not be understood or reasoned out but must be accepted as they are presented in the Quran (Kamal 2004).
The sensory existence on the other hand is the existence in the dreamland. According to Kamal (2004) the imaginative existence involves the mental imagery of an object which is not in the vicinity of the sensory jurisdiction. The mental existence functionalizes the object (Mantzavinos 2001).
Relationship between humanities and sciences
The philosophy discipline is one of the humanities that try to bridge the gap between humanities and sciences (Priel 2010). Philosophers has used scientific methods in the arguments. In the context of the relationships between the humanities and sciences there have been two commonly held perceptions.
There is the Naturalism viewpoint which holds that both the natural sciences and social sciences are similar in their methodological use. On the other hand the Anti Naturalism holds the view that the social sciences have distinguishing properties from the natural sciences.
There have been several debates on whether the scientific methods in natural sciences may be used in social sciences. While some scholars argue that scientific methods can be used in social sciences other argue that it is necessary to use the scientific methods for social sciences (Priel 2010).
The challenges of using scientific methods for social sciences are many. It has been observed that various natural sciences employ different methodologies for the treatment of empirical observations. It therefore follows that for the use of scientific methodologies for social sciences there must be some level of generality in the methods free from the specifics of individual natural sciences disciplines (Priel 2010).
The minimum but not sufficient conditions of a scientific inquiry include a criterion for empirical testing, the logical steps for the empirical testing and the open door policy to criticism and evaluation. However there are other aspects of scientific studies that vary between disciplines.
This may include explanations of observed empirical results, the qualitative methods, the use of predictions and the logical reasoning in arriving at a decision. These kinds of differences in natural sciences methodologies have given rise to two school of thoughts; positivists and antipositivist philosophers.
Positivists hold the view that the scientific method that is the various techniques of observing phenomena with a view of obtaining knowledge is the best way of obtaining knowledge in both social and natural sciences. In this context the scientific method is seen to replace the metaphysical way of obtaining knowledge.
According to Priel (2010) there are four critical elements in the conceptualization of positivists view. These include Anti-historicism, scientism, materialism, and a minimal language analysis in the understanding of text. Scientism occupies itself with the observance of scientific methods in the attainment of knowledge.
While the scientific methods may vary from one scientific disciplines the common denominator is the detachment of the researcher from the phenomenon under consideration. On the other hand materialism holds the belief the world is composed of physical elements.
The positivists reject the notion of understanding of things from a historical perspective. They also downplay the role of language analysis in the understanding of things. Positivist always advocate for the breaking of the phenomena into different components in order to enhance their understanding (Jones 2000).
In summary on the other hand, the antipositivists are seen to reject at least one of the following four notions (Priel 2010).
- Holism; this view holds that the human actions are understood from cultural context.
- Internal understanding; this understanding is not dependent of the external observations of an objects but it depends on the meaning attached to it.
- Historicism; this attempt to understand phenomena from its historical development.
- The role of language analysis in the understanding of the phenomena is seen to be very critical (Jones 2000).
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