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  • Print publication year: 2005
  • Online publication date: January 2010

11 - On Religion as a religious classic: hermeneutical musings after two hundred years


To the memory of Wilhelm Pauck


Let me begin with a prefatory confession. Ten years ago when I published the English translation of the first edition of Schleiermacher's On Religion: Speeches to its Cultured Despisers (1799 edition) I was concerned whether the work would have an impact in today's world. Like many of you, I was aware of a certain illustrious story of its influence within the history of modern theology, and to some extent philosophy of religion. To help promote the book I wrote a sketch of the history of the work's reception to be included in the Introduction to the translation, but then dropped it when I, and the editors at Cambridge, saw that there was already too much to be said about the text's immediate circumstances and arguments. I concurred with that decision. Yet I also felt ambiguous about it. I doubted that a work can be explained by the sum of its influences. But its influences nonetheless serve as benchmarks by which we attempt to define a work as classic, one that bears up amid the vagaries of time. To some extent, the present essay provides an opportunity for me to work out my thoughts on the ambivalence of seeking to know works by knowing something of their influence and reading them in light of what Gadamer calls their “effective history.