Speaking of Reading it All…

Comparisons between legal and religious methods of interpretation, or hermeneutics, are common. See law professor Levinson’s Constitutional Faith and theologian Pelikan’s Interpreting the Bible and the Constitution. The topic itself is very broad. Here’s one that provokes comparison for me.

Over at Volokh Conspiracy, David Post relates his experiment assigning law students an entire legal decision, not the textbook summary.

Professor Post believes legal education abandons students to sink or swim when their practice demands them to explain a new ruling. “Being able to read a judicial opinion from start to finish and to figure out what it means, or even what it might mean, even though there’s a lot of confusing junk in it, is an indispensable skill for any lawyer.” He compares legal textbook methodology to other fields.

It’s as though we were teaching graduate students in, say, 17th century English literature, and we had them read only edited, “bowdlerized” versions of Milton’s work – hey, you don’t really need to read Book II of Paradise Lost to get the “important stuff,” and it’ll just confuse you if you do.

Does this pedagogy aid the learner’s ability to apply the principles of the tradition to new circumstances?

How does this dynamic correspond to the strengths and weaknesses of the scholastic method of theological training developed by the Medieval Church’s application of Aristotle logic?

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