Dom Taylor

Philosophy, Religion, and French, Spanish, & Italian Librarian 

Father Harold Drake Library and Elizabeth Dafoe Library

Catholic Studies Subject Guide

Research and Interpretation

CATH 3900-A01

February 1, 2018

Two ways to read texts

Vertical (close reading)

Lateral (looking at context)



Determining the meaning of the text as a standalone document. This includes:

  • Looking up definitions of complex terms, jargon, and non-English words (e.g., Latin)
  • Assessing  the internal consistency and coherence of the text. Are there contradictory facts or arguments? Are there leaps in the logic of the text (e.g., non sequitur)?
  • Identifying clear indications of meaning (e.g., a thesis statement, arguments, or beliefs)
  • Working out the structure of the text

Source: Wineburg, S., & McGrew, S. (2017). Lateral Reading: Reading Less and Learning More When Evaluating Digital Information (SSRN Scholarly Paper No. ID 3048994). Rochester, NY: Social Science Research Network. Retrieved from

Determining the meaning of the text through its context. This includes:

  • Reviewing secondary sources cited/footnoted in the original text. Is the original source's interpretation accurate ? Do the secondary sources provide more meaning?
  • Reading commentary, analysis, and criticism of the original text
  • Evaluating the historico-political context of the original text and its author(s). 


Interpreting texts as a type of communication

Author's intended meaning

-Historical context

-Background knowledge

Author's text

-Attempt to convey meaning through clues and cues (e.g., common idioms and metaphors, conventional language)

-Historical context

-Background knowledge

Reader's interpretation of author's text

-Attempt to  interpret author's clues and cues (e.g., figuring out idioms, author's context, etc..)

-Attempt to reasonably align interpretation with other relevant texts (e.g., both current to reader and contemporary to author's context)




Successful interpretation occurs when the author provides enough "clues" for readers + a given reader makes an effort to accurately and charitably interpret such clues (and has the competencies do so). Successful interpretation does NOT mean that you necessarily agree with the author's meaning. Successful interpretation does NOT mean there is only one way to interpret texts (although some texts are more salient for interpretation than others).

Sollicitudo rei socialis (The social concern)

Some things to keep in mind while reading this encyclical:

Vertical elements

Lateral elements

  • Identification of themes (e.g., solidarity, sin), arguments/theses (e.g., "solidarity as a christian virtue," p.31)
  • Definitions of terms (specialized vocabulary: "superdevelopment," see Section IV; latin: "mutatis mutandis")
  • Structure and purpose of text (e.g., what does each section purport to do?)
  • Biblical references, references to encyclicals, references to key figures

  • Larger context of catholic social teaching (e.g., Rerum novarum, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church)

  • Broader historical context (e.g., John Paul II and the Solidarity Movement in Poland, Latin American Liberation Theology, & communism, capitalism, and solidarity).

  • Reactions to encyclical 


  1. Divide into 3 groups 
  2. Group 1 will look at section V, Group 2 will look at section VI, and Group 3 will look at section VII.
  3. Identify and discuss 2 "vertical" elements and 2 "lateral" elements in your section.
  4. Take the two "lateral" elements from (3) that refer to an external source, such as another encyclical, or a Bible passage) and:
    1. Explain the relevance of the source to the encyclical and your broader understanding of tradition of Catholic Social Teaching
    2. Assess the use of the source: is another interpretation possible? How and in what ways does John Paul II's use of these sources succeed or fall short?
  5. Each group will present highlights of their discussion to the class

Online resources


Dom Taylor

Religion and Social Work Librarian

Father Harold Drake Library and Elizabeth Dafoe Library

Catholic Studies Subject Guide



CATH 3900-A01: Research and Interpretation

By Dom Taylor

CATH 3900-A01: Research and Interpretation

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