In the modern academic study of religion, there are two dominant positions: The so-called hermeneutics of charity, which in the social sciences is identified with Max Weber, and the hermeneutics of suspicion which is identified with the tradition of Emile Durkheim. The hermeneutics of charity is not, as it is often assumed, inherently aligned with emic discourse. Often it appropriates the other as material for modern Western academic theories. The attempt to understand often turns into colonial eisegesis.
With the help of the two concepts used in translation theory, the ’own’ (das Eigene) and the ’foreign’ (das Fremde), the relationship forming between the texts seems to be definable. These terms are applied in translation theory following the tradition of hermeneutics.
As far as Heidegger is concerned, hermeneutics is ontology; it is about the most fundamental conditions of man's being in the world. Yet Heidegger's turn to ontology is not completely separated from earlier hermeneutic philosophies.
For Schleiermacher, hermeneutics is the art of understanding. In seeking to lay out a general hermeneutics, his aim was to discover the interpretive techniques which occurred in any act of understanding. What made his attempt special was that these techniques were not based on that which was particular to the text, but were operative in any act of understanding at all.
In the course of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, hermeneutics emerges as a crucial branch of Biblical studies. Later on, it comes to include the study of ancient and classic cultures. With the emergence of German romanticism and idealism the status of hermeneutics changes. Hermeneutics turns philosophical.
Hermeneutics opposes the radical relativist notion that meaning cannot be trans-lingual. As the speculative grammarians of the Middle Ages recognized, all languages are rooted in a depth grammar of human meaning. This ontological grammar is not a meta-language in which everything can be said. Rather, it is the single horizon of human understanding.
Not long after the days of Christ, R. Hillel set forth seven hermeneutic rules (middoth), among which are found the inference from the greater to the less, from the general to the particular, from the context, and from parallel passages. At the beginning of the second century R. Yishma 'el ben Elisha' increased the number of Hillel's rules to thirteen, treating among other questions the way of harmonizing contradictory passages.
Use of the word “hermeneutics” can be traced to Aristotle’s treatise On Interpretation, which mainly concerned the proper way to construct propositions about the world, but the roots of the word go back even further: like most philosophical problems, hermeneutics finds its first, preliminary speculation in Plato.
["Hermeneutics" is] derived from a Greek word connected with the name of the god Hermes, the reputed messenger and interpreter of the gods. It would be wrong to infer from this that the word denotes the interpretation or exegesis of Sacred Scripture. Usage has restricted the meaning of hermeneutics to the science of Biblical exegesis, that is, to the collection of rules which govern the right interpretation of Sacred Scripture. Exegesis is therefore related to hermeneutics, as language is to grammar, or as reasoning is to logic.
Hermeneutics is the art of interpreting. Although it began as a legal and theological methodology governing the application of civil law, canon law, and the interpretation of Scripture, it developed into a general theory of human understanding through the work of Friedrich Schleiermacher, Wilhelm Dilthey, Martin Heidegger, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Paul Ricoeur, and Jacques Derrida. Hermeneutics proved to be much bigger than theology or legal theory. The comprehension of any written text requires hermeneutics; reading a literary text is as much a hermeneutic act as interpreting law or Scripture.