In understanding a text, the reader is as important as the text itself: this statement might summarize the discussions on hermeneutics in past decades. Literary approaches, hermeneutical reflexions, feminist positions, liberation theology, contextual theology ̵ they all converge in a sort of rediscovery of the function of the subject. The text is no longer a mere object, the meaning of which can be found by learned studies, nor is it the self-evident Word of God, as it is in some neo-orthodox positions. The understanding of a text is always the result of an interaction between text and reader.
If the reading subject is so essential to comprehending a text, the interest of the interpreter cannot be restricted to the text but must be directed to the reader, too. Her or his conditions are as important as the text, in terms of gender, social and economic situation, ethnic group, and so on.
What is the position of psychoanalysis in this setting? Psychoanalysis can of course tell us something about readers and the mental conditions under which they read a text. Psychoanalysis can also tell us something about texts, about games hidden behind the surface of grammar and semantics. And it can tell us much about the process of reading: What happens when text meets readers, or readers meet text?
And what about God? Religious texts speak about God. Readers’ images of God depend partly on their religious traditions ̵ mainly formed by texts ̵ and partly on their mental structure. We thus have a sort of triangle with text, reader, and God at the three extremities. But how are these points connected and how do they influence each other?
The articles in this book discuss these questions. They all originated in lectures given in a so-called “intensive program” on “psychoanalysis and the reading of religious texts”. This program was held from 1996-2000 in Groningen, Barcelona, and Marburg with students and scholars from different European universities, namely universities in Basel, Barcelona, Groningen, Marburg and Uppsala. The lecture series was financed by the European Union’s ERASMUS/SOCRATES program.
The editors wish to thank all the program participants, the scholars who contributed their lectures, and the students who discussed them – primarily in languages other than their mother tongue. The editors also wish to thank ERASMUS/SOCRATES for financing most of the program, including this book. Special thanks to Marten Docter, who patiently and carefully edited the manuscripts that came from all over Europe.
We hope that this book will focus new attention on the old question regarding how readers can understand texts and what this process tells them about God.