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Jessica Pope eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Textual and contextual refer to ways of reading the U.S. Constitution and other legal documents. The textual mode of reading is literal. It is concerned with what the text states. The textual mode of reading does not inquire into what the authors meant to convey, nor does it account for the specific social and historical considerations the authors may have made. Instead, the textual mode of thinking considers how best to apply the letter of the law to the situation at hand.

The contextual mode of reading seeks to identify the authors' intent. Instead of focusing on the letter of the law, the contextualist reader tries to figure out what the authors were trying to accomplish. Contextualism takes into account the social and historical moment in which the text was created. Contextual readings sometimes radically depart from textualist readings because contextualism values meaning and intent over form.

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