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Distorting Concepts, Obscured Experiences: Hermeneutical Injustice in Religious Trauma and Spiritual Violence

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 September 2020

Michelle Panchuk*
Department of Philosophy, Murray State University, 102 Curris Center Dr., Murray, Kentucky, 42071-3312
Corresponding author. Email:


This article explores the relationship between hermeneutical injustice in religious settings and religious trauma (RT) and spiritual violence (SV). In it I characterize a form of hermeneutical injustice (HI) that arises when experiences are obscured from collective understanding by normatively laden concepts, and I argue that this form of HI often plays a central role in cases of religious trauma and spiritual violence, even those involving children. In section I, I introduce the reader to the phenomena of religious trauma and spiritual violence. In section II, I describe the role normatively laden concepts play in shaping our social experience. I then elucidate how they can contribute to HI. In section III, I provide a brief overview of the history of some significant identity prejudices in the history of Christianity and argue that children can properly be understood as victims of HI within some religious communities. I then return in section IV to the examples of religious trauma and spiritual violence offered throughout the article and demonstrate that HI plays an important causal role in each of them. HIs sometimes constitute spiritual and religious harms; at other times they create an epistemic environment conducive to spiritual abuse.

Copyright © The Author(s), 2020. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of Hypatia, a Nonprofit Corporation

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