About the Seminar


The Seminar on Phenomenology and Hermeneutics was founded in 1996 by Dr. Pol Vandevelde at Marquette University.  The seminar is dedicated to the study and promotion of phenomenology and hermeneutics, facilitating the research of graduate students and faculty, and inviting scholars outside the university to share the result of their work.  It received the support of the Marquette University Department of Philosophy, Department of Theology, and Helen Way Klingler College of Arts and Sciences in 2001-2005.  The Seminar has received support from Marquette University's Helen Way Klingler College of Arts and Sciences since 2005 and from Dominican College since 2008.

Phenomenology and Hermeneutics are two of the most important and influential trends within philosophy in the 20th-21st centuries.

Phenomenology is a movement founded by the German philosopher Edmund Husserl (1859-1936).  He intended it as an effort to return to the things that should really matter to philosophy and to avoid any intellectual construction or ideology in doing so (his motto was: Zurück zu den Sachen selbst).  The way to do this is by studying things as they are given to consciousness in the first person experience or as they appear, as phenomena. The correlation between consciousness and the manners of givenness of objects is a priori and phenomenology attempts to bring out the structures and rules of this correlation. 

The phenomenology that Husserl founded became extremely influential in Germany through his students, Martin Heidegger, Eugen Fink, Roman Ingarden, Edith Stein, among many others, and in France through, for example, Jean-Paul Sartre, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Paul Ricoeur.  The movement then radiated through all of Europe and the United States.  For a while, phenomenology was used as the name for “continental” philosophy as opposed to Anglo-American “analytic” philosophy.  Now, however, phenomenology is more appropriately seen as one trend among many within continental philosophy.

Hermeneutics is the discipline that reflects upon the questions linked to interpretation.  It started with the questions arising with the interpretation and translation of the Bible and other religious texts.  Modern hermeneutics is usually considered to have begun with Friedrich Schleiermacher and Wilhelm Dilthey in the 19th century.  Hermeneutics became recognized as a philosophical discipline through the work of Hans-Georg Gadamer in the 20th century.

The scope of the discipline is quite broad and includes issues and questions that are also treated in interpretation theory.  Hermeneutics is both a reflection on concepts, issues, and problems, linked to interpretation as well as a methodology for interpreting texts—a method which recognizes that ideas exists in light of historical, linguistic, and cultural horizons of meaning and which attempts to reconstruct those horizons.  By addressing questions within ever-new horizons, hermeneutic understanding strives to break through the limitations of a particular world-view and account for the multifaceted nature of texts, documents, or historical events. It thus bridges the gap between philosophy, literary criticism, the studies of religious texts, and legal interpretations.

Because of some common goals, themes, and questions, the two trends of phenomenology and hermeneutics often intersect or overlap.  The Seminar on Phenomenology and Hermeneutics is committed to exploring the themes in both disciplines and the issues they raise and thereby to contribute to an engaged albeit disinterested investigation of the many aspects of a human consciousness that is at home in a cultural world.