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Reader Response Theory
Excerpt from the Lexham Bible Dictionary, the most advanced Bible dictionary.
An approach to the study of literature that focuses on the reader and the process of reading. This theory holds that meaning is created through the interaction of the reader and the text. As a result, we can determine a text’s meaning only by understanding the original audience’s likely responses to the text.Many scholarly approaches to biblical interpretation seek to determine how the writing generates meaning or communicates a message to the reader. In reader-response theory, it is assumed that the reader contributes more to the meaning of a text than the author does through writing it (Barton, Reading the Old Testament, 209).The reader-response approach seeks to identify a hypothetical audience—the “implied reader”—of a particular text. The narrative itself expects a particular audience, and expects this audience to have particular responses to the text (e.g., recalling earlier parts of the story, having certain emotional reactions; Archer, A Pentecostal, 232–33). Reader-response theory uses the perceived social context and history of the hypothetical audience to find that audience’s interpretation of the text.According to reader-response theorists, readers do not try to determine the author’s meaning as they read. Instead, meaning is negotiated or created when a transaction occurs between a text and the reader. Readers take a stance toward the material that ranges from “efferent” (reading for practical information) to “aesthetic” (reading for enjoyment and appreciation). When a reader connects in an aesthetic or emotional manner, the reader’s life-experiences, culture, presuppositions, theological traditions, background, and knowledge help to formulate the meaning of the biblical text.When exposed to a narrative, readers tend to respond differently, based partly on the character with whom they most closely identify. This identification is based on a number of factors, including the readers’ social location and reading strategy (Powell, Chasing, 20). For example, a man might identify more easily with a male character, and a marginalized group may identify more easily with an oppressed character (such as the injured man in the parable of the Good Samaritan). Another factor is the understanding of “meaning” itself. One reader may define meaning as the point or moral of the story, while another may define meaning in terms of the story’s emotional effect (e.g., tears, laughter, fear, joy).There are varying views about the extent to which a reader can create meaning. Moderate reader-response critics hold that a reader only completes a text’s meaning by filling in gaps or imagining details that are not expressly offered by the story (Archer, A Pentecostal, 234). For moderate reader-response critics, the reader’s creativity is constrained by limits laid down within the text (Vanhoozer, “The Reader,” 309). Radical reader-response critics claim that any determinate meaning of a text threatens the freedom of the reader, and they resist any claims about an absolute or exclusive meaning (Vanhoozer, “The Reader,” 310). According to radical reader-response critics, some texts are to be resisted if they convey an ideology not acceptable to the reader (Vanhoozer, “The Reader,” 268). This view places the readers in full control; they can generate the text’s meaning.
Dictionaries
The Lexham Bible Dictionary
Reader-Response Theory
Reader-Response Theory An approach to the study of literature that focuses on the reader and the process of reading. This theory holds that meaning is created through the interaction of the reader and the text. As a result, we can determine a text’s meaning only by understanding the original audience’s
The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary
Reader Response Theory
READER RESPONSE THEORY. A development within literary studies which focuses on the relationship between text and receiver.A. DefinitionB. Background and Formative InfluencesC. Basic Concepts1. The Implied and Other Readers2. Gaps and the Indeterminacy of the Text3. The Wandering Viewpoint4. Criticism
Pocket Dictionary of Liturgy & Worship
Response
response. Short *acclamations or affirmations made by the *choir or *congregation in response to what the *minister has said or read. Sometimes the responses are repetitive, as during the *prayers of the people when the *congregation responds periodically, for example, “Hear our prayer.”
Responsive Reading
responsive reading. An extended passage of Scripture that is read by the *minister and the *congregation in turn (note the *litany-like responses of Ps 80:2–3, 6–7, 18–19; 136; Sir 51).
Responsorial Psalm
responsorial psalm. Stemming from ancient practice, the *psalm recited in response to the first lesson of *Sunday worship.
The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, Volumes 1–5
READER RESPONSE CRITICISM
READER RESPONSE CRITICISM. Reading is a partnership between author/compiler and audience. The author creates a text, and the reader derives meaning. Both author and audience are governed by the sociocultural contexts in which they live and the assumptions that they bring to the text. This approach to