Words Matter

Hermeneutics in the Study of Religions

by René Gothóni (Author)
©2011 Monographs XIV, 228 Pages
Series: Religions and Discourse, Volume 52


The challenge of methodic quality has haunted scholars in the human and social sciences since the end of the nineteenth century with the explosive and public success of the natural sciences and their precision and aim of controlling nature. The discussion has been dominated by the quest for proper scientific concepts and methods comparable to those employed in the natural sciences.
This book discloses the limits of scientific concepts and methods, and the failure of approaches in the human sciences emulating the scientific procedures in the natural sciences, notably the cognitive science of religion, to articulate religious life in its actuality. The author demonstrates on the basis of his own field research conducted among Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka and Orthodox monks and pilgrims on the Holy Mountain of Athos in Greece how preconceptions and historical belongingness determine interpretation. He argues that in the human sciences words matter more than concepts and propositions, and elucidates how words are revelatory of the authenticity of being, when the attitude adopted is that the view of the encountered other might be right.
In the conclusion the author identifies the methodic characteristics of hermeneutic reflection and proposes an analytic model for the human sciences that enables scholars to articulate the authenticity of actual life in words that reach the other.


XIV, 228
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2011 (August)
Mountain of Athos Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka Orthodox monks human sciences
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2011. XIV, 228 pp., 2 coloured ill., num. graphs

Biographical notes

René Gothóni (Author)

René Gothóni is Professor of Comparative Religion at the University of Helsinki, a life member of Clare Hall, Cambridge, and a life member of the Finnish Society of Sciences and Letters. He is also President of the Finnish Society of Friends of Mount Athos. His publications include Attitudes and Interpretations in Comparative Religion (2000) and The Unknown Pilgrim (2006), and he edited How to do Comparative Religion? Three Ways, Many Goals (2005), The Monastic Magnet. Roads to and from Mount Athos (with G. Speake, 2008) and Pilgrims and Travellers in the Search of the Holy (2010).


Title: Words Matter