Credit points


Campus offering

No unit offerings are currently available for this unit



Teaching organisation

This unit involves 150 hours of focused learning. The total includes formally structured learning activities such as lectures, tutorials and, online learning. The remaining hours typically involve reading, research, and the preparation of tasks for assessment. 

Unit rationale, description and aim

As attested by Pilate’s famous question to Jesus in John’s Gospel, discussion over the nature of truth is an ancient philosophical preoccupation that has enormous implications across a range of human endeavours, with theology a particular case in point. This unit explores the whole question of human communication in its complexity and dynamism, and what the implications are for the nature of truth, knowledge and interpretation. What is meant by ‘objective’ knowledge? Is the idea of ‘absolute truth’ feasible, and is it possible for human beings? Either way, what are the implications of this? In particular, how should answers to these questions influence our understanding of the interpretation of written texts, and in particular biblical texts and theological doctrines?  The unit aims to provide students with a broad understanding of hermeneutics, with a particular focus on its importance for theology, while also enhancing their critical thinking skills and helping them develop a level of philosophical acumen.

Learning outcomes

To successfully complete this unit you will be able to demonstrate you have achieved the learning outcomes (LO) detailed in the below table.

Each outcome is informed by a number of graduate capabilities (GC) to ensure your work in this, and every unit, is part of a larger goal of graduating from ACU with the attributes of insight, empathy, imagination and impact.

Explore the graduate capabilities.

On successful completion of this unit, students should be able to:

LO1 - Describe and analyse some of the key problems and principles of philosophical hermeneutics within the wider scope of the nature of truth and knowledge (GA4; GA5);

LO2 - Analyse and evaluate various models of hermeneutics in terms of the accounts they provide of the possibilities of securing knowledge and ascertaining truth (GA4; GA5, GA8); 

LO3 - Demonstrate appropriate skills in philosophical research, and clear use of philosophically effective English expression GA4; GA5; GA8; GA9.

Graduate attributes

GA4 - think critically and reflectively 

GA5 - demonstrate values, knowledge, skills and attitudes appropriate to the discipline and/or profession 

GA8 - locate, organise, analyse, synthesise and evaluate information 

GA9 - demonstrate effective communication in oral and written English language and visual media 


Topics will include:

•       The broad epistemological context::

(a)   Traditional ancient and medieval approaches to the complexities around the idea of knowledge, truth, belief and justification;

(b)   Contemporary epistemological theories and debates concerning internalism and externalism; foundationalism and non-foundationalism;

•       Philosophical Hermeneutics:

(a)   The development of a ‘general hermeneutics’ in early modern thought;

(b)   Schleiermacher, Dilthey and the ‘objective meaning’ of the text;

(c)   Heidegger, worldliness and truth as a-letheia (un-covering);

(d)   Gadamer on horizontality and the primacy of pre-understanding;

(e)   Structuralist hermeneutics on the deep structures of the text;

(f)    Habermas’ critical hermeneutics;

(g)   Post-structuralist hermeneutics and Derridean deconstruction;

(h)   Ricoeur and Tracy: mediating the conflict of interpretations (of interpretation).

Learning and teaching strategy and rationale

This unit involves 150 hours of focused learning. The total includes formally structured learning activities such as lectures, tutorials and online learning. The remaining hours typically involve reading, research, and the preparation of tasks for assessment. The unit has been designed as a blend of a blend of collaborative learning and project-based learning approaches, combined with direct instruction to introduce and draw out new and unfamiliar concepts and theories. The collaborative context of the unit is focused especially on the small group discussion of the weekly readings. The project-based aspect relates to the research project on which students work throughout the second half of the unit, culminating in their research essay. 

Assessment strategy and rationale

The assessment strategy for this unit has been designed to examine students’ understanding of the philosophical issues and theories under consideration, as well as their ability to critically analyse those issues and theories. It does so through three graduated assessment tasks. The first two tasks prepare students for the third and principal task of writing an extended research essay. The two written analysis tasks examine students’ understanding of key concepts and theories, and their capacity to engage critically with some key texts in the field. The research essay requires students to research an area of the unit in further detail, and it examines their ability to develop and defend a coherent position of their own in a formally structured argumentative essay.

Overview of assessments

Brief Description of Kind and Purpose of Assessment TasksWeightingLearning OutcomesGraduate Attributes

First written analysis task    


LO1, LO2

GA4, GA5, GA8

Second written analysis task


LO1, LO2

GA4, GA5, GA8

Research Essay


LO1, LO2, LO3

GA4, GA5, GA8, GA9

Representative texts and references

Farkasfalvy, D. Inspiration and Interpretation: A Theological Introduction to Sacred Scripture. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2010.

Figal, G. Objectivity: The Hermeneutical and Philosophy. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2010.

Gadamer, H-G. Philosophical Hermeneutics. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976.

Truth and Method. London: Continuum, 2004.

Malpas, J. and S. Zabala. Consequences of Hermeneutics: Fifty Years after Gadamer’s ‘Truth and Method’. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2010.

Ricoeur, P. The Conflict of Interpretations. London: Continuum, 2004.

Schneiders, S.M. The Revelatory Text: Interpreting the New Testament as Sacred Scripture. 2nd ed. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1999.

Thiselton, A.C. Hermeneutics: An Introduction. Cambridge, UK; Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2009.

Tracy, D. Plurality and Ambiguity: Hermeneutics, Religion, Hope. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994.

Vattimo, G. Beyond Interpretation: The Meaning of Hermeneutics for Philosophy. David Webb (trans). Cambridge: Polity Press, 1997.

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