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.

No comments:

Post a Comment