How to Support the Body’s Hermeneutic Role

Reading involves the whole body—not just the eyes or the mind.1

To improve your reading, you might begin wearing corrective lenses if you have vision challenges. Or you might learn more about the topic or vocabulary of a given piece. Doing so might prepare your mind to interpret it better.

Yet the whole rest of the body is involved in reading also. Therefore, it bears asking how best to support the body’s involvement in the task of reading. Attention to this question has the prospect of making your reading that much more effective and enjoyable.

Ergonomics beyond the Basics

When it comes to the (sometimes literal) nuts and bolts of putting this support into operation, the discipline best positioned to offer helpful guidance is “ergonomics.” Concisely stated,

Ergonomics is a field of study that attempts to reduce strain, fatigue, and injuries by improving product design and workspace arrangement. The goal is a comfortable, relaxed posture.2

Unfortunately, a good deal of material readily available online about ergonomics often proves less than helpful. Many times, it’s either too basic or too salesy.

Too Basic

Sometimes, it is too basic to be truly helpful.3 For instance, it’s not terribly insightful to observe that a “comfortable” position and posture prove helpful for reading.

Deliberate choice of more uncomfortable positions or postures is scarcely likely. Even in less-than-ideal situations, readers tend to adapt their bodies to the task of reading however they judge best.

So, the issue is scarcely that this operation fails to occur. Rather, it is that those of us who want to improve our bodies’ engagement in reading but don’t specialize in ergonomics might have under-formed imaginations. And those under-formed imaginations limit our judgments about how best to achieve our aim of supporting our bodies’ engagement in the reading task.

Too Salesy

In other cases, information available is often too directly geared toward pitching particular products billed as “ergonomic.”4

Doubtless, these products have a good amount of ergonomic expertise built into them. But biblical scholarship isn’t known for being the most lucrative of interests. And if you’re like me and you’re going to spend some money, you’d probably rather do so on another book to read rather than a new desk chair in which to do your reading.

In addition, however ergonomically “state of the art” your reading equipment is, it might still prove unhelpful. But having such equipment doesn’t equate to understanding how to configure it—even with product instructions in hand. So, in practice, such a setup might not have the return on your investment that you might hope.

Better Ergonomic Resources for Better Reading

By contrast, some institutions provide genuinely helpful, open-access resources for educating yourself about ergonomics. These include

And of these, I’ve found Cornell’s resources especially useful as I’ve reimagined some of my own practice—particularly for on-screen reading at a computer.


The variations in what count as positions and postures conducive to reading are as varied as are the bodies that read. That said, the discipline of ergonomics specifically focuses on crafting environments conducive to the task to be performed. Reading is no exception.

So, if you find your reading challenged by how your body tends to read, there’s probably a better way to support yourself in that task. You might find that stoking your ergonomic imagination might suggest some comparatively small adjustments that will yield outsized dividends for you.—And I’ll share next week a bit about my own experience with these kinds of changes to hopefully stoke your imagination a bit further.

  1. Header image provided by Marjhon Obsioma

  2. University Health Service, “Computer Ergonomics: How to Protect Yourself from Strain and Pain,” University of Michigan, n.d. 

  3. E.g., Nick Blackbourn, “How to Read a Computer Screen: The Latest Tools to Ease on-Screen Reading,” weblog, LSE Impact Blog, 8 March 2013. 

  4. E.g., λutonomous, “Have You Ever Practiced an Ergonomic Reading Position Yet,” weblog, Λutonomous, 27 November 2021. 

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