To those who ask if creative interpretations of religious texts should be allowed, I always answer by saying that I am nobody to allow or disallow anyone anything. But when creative interpretations become part of academic studies whose purpose is to gain an understanding of a religion, then I have to wonder — how useful is a book? Think of it like this: A bottle of Dettol is very useful. But if you scratch the label off it and paste a new one that says ‘Honey’, how useful is it to someone who is wounded and in need of medicine?
Should scholars be free “to offer any interpretation” as the AAR holds, or would the purpose of religious studies be better served if they are free to study any interpretation grounded in religion as it is lived? Is any translation and any interpretation supporting foregone conclusions, or foregone obsessions as with Doniger, fair and ethical? What of the role of a scholar as a teacher? Would my professors have accepted just any interpretation I offered? As a student, I was instructed to read the texts with a concern for meaning, the author’s possible intentions, and historical context, amongst other factors. As one scholar friend said, “However creative an interpretation, it cannot be completely divorced from the text and a good reading of text is self-critical, aware of one’s own presuppositions, and made with a diligence to not read into the text.”