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Friedrich Schleiermacher: German Romanticism between Philosophy and Theology

Research project
Active research
Project owner
Institutionen för litteratur, idéhistoria och religion

Short description

This project consists of the translation into Swedish of two books by the German philosopher and theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher: Über die Religion: Reden an die Gebildeten unter ihren Verächtern (On Religion: Speeches to its Cultural Despisers) and Die Weihnachtsfeier: Ein Gespräch (Christmas Eve Celebration: A Dialogue). I will add substantial postscripts to these two translations, which place the books in their historical context, explicate their content and point toward their continuing relevance. Through Schleiermacher’s central position in early German romanticism, a fruitful conversation on the relation between philosophy and theology is opened up, as well as the possibility of reflecting on the existential meaning of spatiality in a new way.

The German philosopher and theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768–1834) not only is known as the “church father of the nineteenth century” because of his reformulation of Reformation theology, but was also placed in the center of the romantic movement, where he, among other things, shared quarters with Friedrich Schlegel, translated Plato’s collected works into German, and formulated, in academic lectures, a philosophical hermeneutics that deeply influenced twentieth-century phenomenological hermeneutics. Swedish interest in Schleiermacher’s theology has not, however, been particularly extensive during past fifty years, probably because he has been interpreted through the lens of liberal theology, and knowledge of his work as a philosopher has remained almost non-existent.

As a way to remedy this lack of knowledge of a central thinker in the German cultural sphere, this project aims to return to an understanding of him in the context of German romanticism. This return is a way to recover Schleiermacher’s philosophy and theology beyond habitual academic conventions and stereotypes. It will be achieved through the translation of two of his books, his first from 1799, Über die Religion: Reden an die Gebildeten unter ihren Verächtern (On Religion: Speeches to its Cultural Despisers) as well as the small booklet Die Weihnachtsfeier: Ein Gespräch (Christmas Eve Celebration: A Dialogue) from 1806 in its second edition from 1826. Both works will be provided with substantial postscripts that place the books in their historical and cultural context and explicate their content. Schleiermacher’s Reden already exist in an early Swedish translation from 1923, published by Albert Bonniers förlag as Tal över religionen and translated by Olof Rabenius, but because the text is so central for the understanding German romanticism and the translation is almost one hundred years old, the time has come for a new translation.

In short, one can say that Reden contains several central romantic motifs concerning ‘the absolute’ or ‘the eternal’, ‘interiority’, ‘sense’, and ‘feeling’, formulated in relation to the place of religion in Schleiermacher’s time among ‘its cultural despisers’. If Schleiermacher in Reden appears as the defender of religion in the form of a philosophy of religion, he is doing theology in the form of a fictional narrative in Die Weihnachtsfeier. It is interesting to note that, if Reden describes a centrifugal movement away from the concrete towards the absolute, the direction in Die Weihnachtsfeier is the opposite, considering how the absolute and divine makes a concrete impact in the Christmas Eve celebration. Die Weihnachtsfeier is a booklet about the incarnation in the form of a conversation that simultaneously enacts it, an approach for which Schleiermacher probably found inspiration in his translations of Plato’s dialogues. If, thus, Schleiermacher’s Reden exemplifies a certain metaphysical Wanderlust, Die Weinachtsfeier is, in the form of a metaphysical homesickness, an example of the opposite movement. There is, in other words, reason to think that Schleiermacher’s philosophy and theology could contribute to a contemporary understanding of spatiality.