Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Schleiermacher on Feeling - Speech 2

A few days ago I mentioned how Schleiermacher has received a lot of criticism over basing religion not in metaphysics (philosophy/speculation/system) or in morality (codes/duties) but in intuition and feeling. A friend commented that his primary problem with Schleiermacher is that this move toward feeling cuts Schleiermacher's religion off from love because love is more than a feeling and must be connected with morality (i.e. with duty maybe?) In my post I raised the suggestion that a problem with feeling is that it may be too subjective or individualistic. If, however, Schleiermacher is not as individualistic as he has been made out to be by his accusers and if, instead, religion requires relationship then he may be able to respond to the subjectivism objection. Moreover, if religion requires inter-subjectivity (i.e. mutually dependent relationships with others) he might also be able to respond to my friend's concerns that Schleiermacher's religion is without a love that acts.

I re-read Speech 2 again yesterday. On pages 119-120 of Richard Crouter's (Cambridge) translation of On Religion we read the following:
As long as the first man was alone with homself and nature, the deity did indeed rule over him; it addressed the man in various ways, but h did not understand it, for he did not answer it; his paradise was beautiful and the stars shone down on him from a beautiful heaven, but the sens for the world did not open up within him; he did not even develop within his soul; but his heart was moved by a longing for a world, and so he gathered before him the animal creation to see if one might perhaps be formed from it. Since the deity recognized that his world would be nothing so long as man was alone, it created for him a partner, and now, for the first time, the world rose before his eyes. In the flesh and bone of his bone he discovered humanity, and in humanity the world. (My emphasis)

And then on the next page he writes:
All our history is contained in this saga ... In order to intuit the world and to have religion, man must first have found humanity, and he finds it only in love and through love.

The quotations are the bedrock for Schleiermacher for how human beings access and experience the Absolute.* His arguments go on for pages and pages, but it is fair to summarize with the above quotes: Feeling and Intuition ARE NOT subjective, individualistic matters. They are rooted in concrete histories, times and places. "The mind, if it is to produce and sustain religion, must be intuited in a world." So religion is foremost an inter-subjective experience. Moreover, this inter-subjectivity for Schleiermacher entails love. Inter-subjectivity for him, in order for religion to be possible, is by its nature a relationship of love. In other words, true religion depends on love.

Now, in order to address my friend's point we need to see that love for Schleiermacher entails some kind of action, morality or duty. It cannot be just a warm, happy feeling. But we're making progress, are we not? Hopefully, I'll be able to address this point soon.

*Writing in his Romantic context, Schleiermacher and friends used terms like the Infinite, the Absolute and so on in attempt to encompass everything that anyone might consider a first principle. So the Absolute and the Infinite for Schleiermacher would have been God, but it would not be fair to substitute them with God because he was not making that identification in the Speeches.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Relating Religious Studies and Theology

What is the place of Theology in a secular liberal arts university? And how can or how should Theology and Religious Studies (i.e. the academic study of religion) be related to one another? These have become important questions to me in the last year as I have moved into the Religious Studies department at Northwestern. I honestly have no good answers to the first question presently. And with regard to the second question, I can only speak from my own case for now.

I am excited to be doing Theology in a Religious Studies setting because Religious Studies allows me to fill my methodological toolkit with methods from across the disciplines: from Political Science to Sociology to History, Anthropology and Philosophy. I can use sociological research methods, for example, to analyze theological evolution of Christian thought around the world today as a form of properly theological systematization. In short, in the globalized Christian church of the 21st century it has seemed to me the Theology needs some of the analytic power of Religious Studies.

It only occurred to me just the other day to wonder about the opposite direction of exchange: Might Religious Studies be able to benefit from Theology's methodological stores? What would this look like?

Friday, January 15, 2010

Schleiermacher - Too much feeling?

Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834) was a German theologian and philosopher who associated with German Romantics (like Schlegel and Novalis) early in his career and who later in his career held a university chair in Theology at Berlin for many years. For his work in theology (most notably his Glaubenslehre or The Christian Faith) came to be known as the "Father of Modern Protestant Theology" (or of "Liberal Theology"). In my studies, I am very interested in the ways the Schleiermacher's theological methods (as in his Brief Outline) might be able to address pressing 21st century theological problems.

Schleiermacher got a bad reputation in the 20th century figures like Franz Rosenzweig, Karl Barth and, later on, H. G. Gadamer. They all accussed him of being too subjective, too psychologistic and placing too much trust in individuals' "feeling" of the universe and of the Absolute. However, these accusations are to explicitly tie Schleiermacher to his Romantic period. Interestingly, Schleiermacher studies had been revived around the turn of the 19-20th century by Wilhelm Dilthey who was also very engaged in reviving Romantic thought in general. Thus, it may be more than coincidental that Schleiermacher was primarily known and treated as a Romantic by Rosenzweig, Barth, etc.

To read Schleiermacher and to understand his ideas about feeling in a very individualistic manner may or may not be a fair treatment of his early work (around the years 1799-1803). I am looking into this more closely. But such a reading is definitely inconsistent with his later, theological work. Schleiermacher's hermeneutics (Hermeneutics and Criticism) and theology (The Christian Faith) depend heavily on inter-subjective processes of communal practice and recognition. At least in the later work, the one presupposes the many, individuality is a function of community.

I am becoming more and more persuaded by the analyses of contemporary practice theorists like Talal Asad and Pierre Bourdieu that living skillfully (as a citizen, as a religious person and as a Christian) require great discipline and practice, which themselves imply communal settings in which those disciplines/practices make sense. My work with Schleiermacher so far suggests to me that he was actually a pioneer for precisely the kind of practice- and community- based theories of knowledge and sociality currently prevalent in the humanities and social sciences.

A real question I am thinking about presently is whether his later work is a departure from youthful infatuations or a critical but careful development of his early positions. If the latter, might this lead us to second-guess how individualistic other Romantics figures were too? Maybe not, but we'll see.