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

2 - Schleiermacher, Mendelssohn, and the Enlightenment: comparing On Religion (1799) with Jerusalem (1783)

Summary

At first glance, Friedrich Schleiermacher as Protestant theologian among the early German Romantics seems to have little in common with Moses Mendelssohn (1729–86), Enlightenment philosopher of modern Judaism. On the surface, a comparison of their famous controversial books On Religion (1799) and Jerusalem (1783) seems an unlikely, even improbable, project. Schleiermacher's extravagant first book launched an approach to religion that unleashed a controversy that reaches to this day. Mendelssohn's book is that of an older man, entwined in numerous controversies, who seeks to vindicate his entire career. The prominence of these classic apologetic works, Jerusalem: or on Religious Power and Judaism and On Religion: Speeches to its Cultured Despisers, has assured their lively reception. Each is a paradigm of modern religious thought. Their authors belong to two different generations; Schleiermacher was attending Moravian boarding school when Mendelssohn published Jerusalem. Yet the culture of 1790s Berlin, and certainly the salon of Henriette Herz frequented by Schleiermacher, was vividly in touch with the signs of Mendelssohn's legacy.

Although each work constitutes its author's considered efforts to reconcile his religious tradition with an understanding of modernity, comparison is burdened by incongruities of time, audience, and the specific location of their authors within the Berlin of a dominant Christian majority or a Jewish minority. Each figure has strong advocates. But their reception is also marked by sharply critical voices.

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