How does sphinx_runner.py find modules to document?

My understanding of Sphinx and conf.py is that in order for Sphinx to find modules to document, the locations of those modules must be on sys.path, but when I run sphinx_runner.py, Sphinx finds my modules even when the directory containing them is not on sys.path.

How is sphinx_runner.py doing this? Do I still need to extend sys.path to include the module source directories if I want my conf.py to be portable (e.g., to run outside of PyCharm using sphinx-build)?

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