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Today is St. Francis Xavier Day, and in the spirit of engaging “the world” as the Jesuits still do, say, at The Jesuit Post and at America Magazine, I’d like to share a PhD hermeneutic for some pop music I’ve got stuck in my head.


I first learned the word “hermeneutic” from a freshman theology teacher at the Holy Cross Catholic high school I attended. We called him “Papa Bear.”


On the first day of class, he wrote the word HERMENEUTICS on the board. He asked us what it meant. Somebody shouted out, “J the C!” {See, he had mentioned that the right answer to every question in Catholic theology boiled down to ______ the ________. We filled in the blanks while playing hangman, and after a long time, we came up with “J the C,” which stood for “Jesus the Christ,” which only goes to commend Papa Bear for imparting the Christocentricity of Vatican II to us.)


Anyhow, “J the C” may have been the right answer for a Christocentric hermeneutic, but it certainly did not answer the question of what hermeneutics was. When all of us were finally stumped, he told us that it meant something along the lines of the interpretation of texts. (We were fed Gadamer early.) He then added, “When you go home to your family dinners tonight, stand up and tell your proud mom and dad, ‘Mom, Dad, I’m a hermeneutician.” I was one of two kids who did that. My theologically educated father said, “Get outta here.”

More years at that Catholic school would lead to further training in hermeneutics, including by a feminist theologian who taught us Genesis, Ruth, and Esther alongside Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. (She never told us that if we were using Walker, this should technically have been called womanist theology.) Imagine how tickled I was to find that the evangelical Christianity Today blog for women was called Her.meneutics.


The Congregation of Holy Cross has a lot of similar things to the Jesuits, not least with Blessed Basil Moreau‘s ultramontane sensibilities, i.e. he was loyal to the See of Rome over movements to form a national church in France, which echoes all sorts of ultramontane stuff in The Spiritual Exercises that progressive Jesuits, experimenting Protestants, and all other Rahner fans who use them conveniently ignore. It was also an order that was conceived as a family of priests, monks, and nuns who opened schools for kids who were too poor to go to school in the wake of the French Revolution and ended up starting (no joke) American universities like the University of Notre Dame. It’s fitting that our first saint was thus St. André Bessette, an illiterate monk/healer/”miracle man” who was the doorkeeper for the longest time for Montréal’s redux of the Congregation of Holy Cross, which ended up being built into St. Joseph’s Oratory.


I owe my knowledge of the meaning of the word hermeneutics to the Congregation of Holy Cross.


So on this St. Francis Xavier Day, in celebration of the worldliness of the Jesuits, in gratitude to the Congregation of Holy Cross for teaching me hermeneutics, and with a nod to the work of Fr. Jim Martin, SJ, in Between Heaven and Mirth, I’d like to share with you some of my hermeneutics for a few pop songs.


I’ve been listening to these songs at various stages of working on my PhD. I’d like to apply a PhD hermeneutic to them, insofar as this will be an exercise of interpreting the songs in light of my PhD experience. (We call this positionality.) It is, in short, pop songs through the hermeneutic of the PhD.

PHD Movie Trailer from PHD Comics on Vimeo.

Here goes:

1. Comprehensive Exams: “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid

But who cares, no big deal…I want more [books]…

Alternatively, after three months of hibernation: I wanna be where the people are, I wanna see, wanna see them dancin’, walkin’ around on those–whaddya call ’em?–oh, “feet”…

Katy Perry’s thrown in there because when you’re in the midst of an all-day exam and midnight is approaching: …let’s go all the way tonight, no regrets…

2. Research Prospectus: “What Makes You Beautiful” by One Direction

Differentiating antecedents for the you‘s, the first two for the committee, the third for the topic: If only you saw what I could see, you’d understand why I want you so desperately…

3. After many months of fieldwork: “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey

Remembering ethnographic minutiae: Hold on to that feeling.

4. Thesis Writing: “Some Nights” by Fun.

I still see your ghost [the previous argument’s]; oh, Lord, I still don’t know what I stand for…

5. TA Marking/Grading: “I Want It That Way” by The Backstreet Boys

Most frequent comment: Tell me why.


Yes, Mom, Dad, I am still a hermeneutician.