Interpreting Violence: Narrative, Ethics, and Hermeneutics is an NOS-HS-funded initiative that seeks to promote new research on ethics in relation to the narrative form of literature, film and journalism portraying violence, particularly violence performed with political or symbolic goals such as war and terrorism. Our focus will be on interpretive acts involved in the contemporary production and reception of these narratives. We have commissioned new work from twenty-four junior and senior scholars from eight countries to participate in two workshops investigating “The Joys of Violence” (Uppsala 2018) and “The Hermeneutics of Violence” (Turku 2019).

Every act of violence begins as an act of interpretation. A perpetrator interprets another person as worthy of being destroyed. He or she interprets such destruction as a meaningful act. Witnesses register a perpetrator´s appearance, mental state, and secured or threatened status as relevant or irrelevant for making ethical conclusions about the act. In creating a story of a violent act, in fiction or nonfiction, further interpretation presents violence as a link in a causal chain or random, as premeditated or an act of passion, as comprehendible or ultimately unthinkable. Further acts of interpretation mediate the reception of the violent story as it is read or viewed. At every stage of interpretation, the violent act becomes part of systems of meaning that make future violence more or less justified and therefore more or less possible. Our project will consolidate cutting edge approaches to interpreting violence that are being articulated within literary and media studies, intellectual history, philosophy, psychology and theology and will encourage new interdisciplinary approaches to interpreting violence with the goal of disrupting the often unquestioned interpretive acts used to justify violence.

How can violence be narrated, read or viewed in a way that encourages mutual recognition, even love, rather than indifference or hatred? This question assumes new urgency with violence against non-combatants increasing and narrative´s role in motivating both violence and reconciliation becoming more clear.