People frequently ask why I am fascinated by the work of Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768–1834), German philosopher and Protestant theologian. When the question arises, I typically respond that my interest rests on the brilliance and versatility of his achievement in shaping a distinctively modern Protestant Christian thought. But that answer scarcely does justice to the details of his illustrious career or the relevance of his work for today. A founding member of the University of Berlin faculty, Schleiermacher taught philosophy and theology (1809–34) during the initial rise of that university to European prominence. At the time, Schleiermacher was the soul of the theology department. He lectured on every topic of the curriculum (with the exception of the Hebrew Bible), and preached regularly at the Trinity Church. His career mirrors a Berlin that was, in the words of Theodore Ziolkowski, a “rising cultural metropolis,” the intellectual center of the German Enlightenment in Prussia.
The cultural life and political challenges of this city, which grew from 170,000 in 1800 to nearly 500,000 in 1850, form the essential setting for the work of this illustrious scholar. Schleiermacher's Berlin overlaps with the pursuit of German Enlightenment ideals, and a radical questioning of these ideals by a circle of young romantic poets and writers. No passive observer, Schleiermacher played an active role in shaping these movements. Taken as a whole, these essays reflect Schleiermacher's cultural location between Enlightenment and Romanticism, the appellations we give to the intellectual movements that name his cultural worlds.