To send content items to your account,
please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies.
If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account.
Find out more about sending content to .
To send content items to your Kindle, first ensure email@example.com
is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings
on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part
of your Kindle email address below.
Find out more about sending to your Kindle.
Note you can select to send to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations.
‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi.
‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.
Just how and why Jewish emancipation into civil society came to be addressed in a set of six fictive letters by Friedrich Schleiermacher forms a complex but compelling story. How did a rising young Christian theologian within the Berlin Romantic circle come to use his gifts of satire, irony, and substantial insight into religion to address a sociopolitical situation with immense implications for Christians as well as Jews? If comparable moments exist in the history of Christian theology where a major theologian so directly (and constructively) engages the religious teaching and sociopolitical striving of contemporary Jews, they must be few in number. Of course, Schleiermacher's life (1768–1834) coincides with the era of democratic aspirations. The quest for universal rights of late eighteenth-century Europe, epitomized by the neighboring French revolution, had a great impact on Prussian, with a Jewish population many times that of France. Though French Jews (mostly living in Alsace) were emancipated in 1790 and 1791, it would take Prussia another eighty years to grant full civil and political rights to its Jews.
Eventually known as the premier theologian of modern Protestant liberalism and the translator of Plato into German, Schleiermacher served with distinction as teacher at the University of Berlin from 1810 until 1834. His youthful 64-page pamphlet, Letters on the Occasion of the Political-theological Task and the Open Letter of Jewish Householders (July 1799) has received modest attention in the scholarly literature.
At age 64 and at the height of his fame Schleiermacher journeyed to Copenhagen where he was accorded full academic honors. This festive and elegant affair, which occurred on September 22–9, 1833, less than five months before his death, must have been extraordinary. The Copenhagen Post of 28 September vividly describes the German theologian's considerable achievements by observing:
A troubled Christendom has found in him an enthused proclaimer no less than an intellectual freedom in relation to superstition, fanaticism, and literalist authority. The mutual relatedness and well-executed connection of the various sciences are brought to expression in his personality as in his writings and no one has developed the limits of individual sciences with greater clarity or strength, especially the autonomy of theological science and its independence from an excessive speculation. His entire effectiveness manifests the union of science and life. It is no exaggeration if one considers Schleiermacher in many respects as the most significant theologian of our time in the Protestant church, whose uncommon spiritual power and originality are in innermost connection with a deep mind and living feeling. It is also no exaggeration if one believes that the church has had no greater theologian from the time of Calvin down to the present day.
After mention of Schleiermacher's masterful contributions to Plato studies and the study of ancient philosophy, it is further noted that “his whole effectiveness is so significant and influential, that he would have to be an object of interest for anyone, who did not wish to hold himself aloof from the most important movements of the age.
Ever since his death in 1834 the thought of Friedrich Schleiermacher has constituted a battleground of competing theological perspectives. His corpus, which touches on so many diverse aspects of human culture in the modern setting, continues to be the seedbed of rival interpretations and theories. This holds for the relationship between politics and theology. Though discussion of the political teaching of Schleiermacher has never attained the intensity of discussion of his theology, it is well known that much of his lifework focused on a theory of politics and society, including his ethics, his lectures on the state, occasional papers, and addresses before the Berlin Academy and other bodies, his Plato translations and prefaces (especially the Republic), not to mention the political dimension of numerous sermons or his direct involvement in the movement of Prussian Reform. To this day few studies integrate the diverse strata of Schleiermacher's theological teaching into a full-scale treatment of his politics.
The fact that several recent Schleiermacher interpretations take a political bent is to be lauded. The subject is worthy of investigation for its own sake but also because of its potential for throwing light on the relationships between political, economic, or social issues and present-day theological imperatives. By looking at familiar texts with a heightened political consciousness, a reader is forced to rethink fundamental positions of Schleiermacher's thought and to weigh perspectives that often reach into the fabric and aspirations of our own society.
It may surprise English-speaking specialists in modern religious thought to discover that in Germany the name Friedrich Schleiermacher resonates so strongly within the fields of educational theory and practical pedagogy. As a theologian-educator reflecting on the nature of a university, his work compares with John Henry Newman's The Idea of the University in Great Britain and the US. Hundreds of German monographs, papers, and conferences testify to Schleiermacher's contributions to Pedagogik. Among these works, Occasional Thoughts on the Universities in the German Sense became a standard text on universities in its author's lifetime, even if today it is more often cited than studied in depth. Schleiermacher's contribution to founding the University of Berlin is virtually without precedent. Few professors have lectured at a university, the ethos and structures of which they had shaped so formatively. In hindsight we can see that Occasional Thoughts is a pivotal document in his intellectual biography; it drew from all that preceded, even as it shaped his subsequent career. It is ironic that one of Schleiermacher's most accessible and relevant treatises should be examined so infrequently.
If we have generally not thought of Schleiermacher as the maker of institutions, perhaps out of a mistaken sense that romantics do not do that sort of thing, the time is ripe to think differently. Theodore Ziolkowski has compellingly argued that the energies unleashed by the Romantic movement contributed to institutional life in fields that include mining, the law, insane asylums, and museums, in addition to universities.
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.
Friedrich Schleiermacher's groundbreaking work in theology and philosophy was forged in the cultural ferment of Berlin at the convergence of the Enlightenment and Romanticism. The three sections of this book include illuminating sketches of Schleiermacher's relationship to contemporaries (Mendelssohn, Hegel and Kierkegaard), his work as public theologian (dialogue on Jewish emancipation, founding the University of Berlin) as well as the formation and impact of his two most famous books, On Religion: Speeches to its Cultured Despisers and The Christian Faith. Richard Crouter examines Schleiermacher's stance regarding the status of doctrine, Church and political authority, and the place of theology among the academic disciplines. Dedicated to the Protestant Church in the line of Calvin, Schleiermacher was equally a man of the university who brought the highest standards of rationality, linguistic sensitivity and a sense of history to bear upon religion.
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.
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.
The fact that in such knowledge the knower's own being comes into play certainly shows the limits of method, but not of science.
Gadamer, Truth and Method
Few theologians in the history of the Christian church have been as rigorously self-reflective about the craft of theology as was Friedrich Schleiermacher. Always a master teacher, Schleiermacher developed a curriculum for Protestant theology that reflects a penchant for relating thought and practice. In his hands, theological methods must be engaged with actual history and the life of religious institutions. Of course, as an intellectual pursuit a secure starting point for theology must be given. Like Plato, arguably the favorite of his Greek predecessors, Schleiermacher's architectonic cast of mind insists on linking matters of intellectual principle and foundational insight to their specific, embodied details. Although less philosophical in some respects, his preferred Reformation theologian, John Calvin, exemplified an equally bold ambition and similarly systematic cast of mind.
Not surprisingly, the question of theological method runs deep in modern Christian thought. With the dawn of historical criticism and Newtonian physics few verities of the Christian faith could any longer be taken for granted. After the work of dramatist-critic Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729–81) the gulf between accidental truths of history and eternal truths of reason seemed permanent. At the end of the eighteenth century rival theological camps staked out positions, none of which Schleiermacher viewed with satisfaction.
The search for the center of Schleiermacher's thought in The Christian Faith has long been a major preoccupation of Schleiermacher research. Our efforts to grasp the precise nature of the relationship between Christian conviction and scientific or philosophical reflection in Schleiermacher's dogmatics continue to be a subject of scholarly controversy. At stake is the relative balance between its being a confessional work (Schleiermacher's Reformed side) and a philosophically grounded work (which in some respects approximates a natural theology). An interpreter must decide whether a Calvin or a Tillich is the proper model to have in mind when reading Schleiermacher or, if his work exemplifies a mixture of both tendencies, what constitutes its center – the linchpin that holds it together. This essay does not aim at final adjudication of the adequacy of Schleiermacher's dogmatics as much as at a preliminary issue: the bearing of his work as redactor on the theological substance of his thought. Such an inquiry can, I think, shed useful light on the origin and development of the seminal work of modern Protestantism.
It is odd that in an age of sophisticated literary detection the first edition of The Christian Faith (1821–2) has been so little studied. At the turn to the twentieth century several German scholars called our attention to important differences between the original version and the 1830–1 edition.
In his monumental yet never completed (or translated) biography, Life of Schleiermacher (1870), Wilhelm Dilthey maintained that, unlike Kant, Schleiermacher's significance can only be grasped through his biography. In the foreword to the first edition of that famous book we read: “The philosophy of Kant can be wholly understood without a closer engagement with his person and his life; Schleiermacher's significance, his worldview and his works require a biographical portrayal for their thorough understanding.” With these words, which stand without further comment, Dilthey champions a distinctive approach to Schleiermacher. In contrast with Kant, knowledge of Schleiermacher's life is apparently needed for us to grasp what Dilthey sees as his significance, his worldview, and his works. It seems that study of works alone will not yield full significance or worldview in the case of Schleiermacher, though for reasons unstated by Dilthey, this does not hold for Kant.
Dilthey's claim about how Schleiermacher must be studied is eye-catching as well as methodologically puzzling. It raises a host of further questions. Dilthey appears to sponsor a historicist agenda that tilts Schleiermacher studies strongly, if not overwhelming, towards the discipline of history. A turn away from theology and philosophy seems to be suggested, despite Schleiermacher's long pedigree in these fields as his major areas of achievement. To fulfill Dilthey's mandate would require a scholar to attain mastery of the social and cultural history of Prussia in addition to Schleiermacher's texts. Perhaps that might be manageable, if we recognize that our knowledge is always incomplete.