Religion Culture and Society

Kierkegaard's critique of Christendom in all its aspects—philosophical, theological, ecclesiastical, cultural, and sociopolitical—began in his earliest writings and was sustained throughout his authorship, culminating in the attack literature of the last year of his life. The most concentrated discussion of the relation of religion, culture, and society in his writings, however, appears in Two Ages: The Age of Revolution and the Present Age, A Literary Review (1846).1 The subject of this review was a novella titled Two Ages, published anonymously in 1845 by Madam Thomasine Gyllembourg, the mother of J. L. Heiberg, the leading light of Danish culture both aesthetically and philosophically in Kierkegaard's time. In 1833 Heiberg had issued On the Significance of Philosophy for the Present Age, a prospectus for a series of popular lectures intended to introduce Hegelian philosophy to the cultured elite (including women) of Copenhagen. In this work Heiberg characterized the present age as a period of transition and crisis due to the previous age of rationalism, which in his view had led to a discarding of religion by the cultured elite or 'humanity's upper house', leaving it for the edification of the uncultured masses while the cultured few busied themselves with politics.2 In the 1830s, it may be recalled, a liberal movement arose in Denmark supporting freedom of the press and representative government in opposition to the conservatives, who favoured the continuation of an absolute monarchy. It was also during this period that the peasant awakening movement, which had pushed for economic and agrarian reforms in the 1820s, made significant gains in land ownership and political representation in the provincial estates or advisory assemblies established by the king. Moreover, disagreements over the legal and political status of the mostly German-speaking duchies of Slesvig and Holstein in southern Jutland in this decade fed German and Danish nationalism. So there was considerable political ferment in Denmark at that time. In Heiberg's judgement, however, it was 'the very political character of the age' that constituted its crisis, inasmuch as 'after having cast out religion, that is, knowledge of the

1 See Cappel0rn and Deuser (1999) and Perkins (1984) for critical essays on this work. On Kierkegaard's social and political thought in general, see Kirmmse (1990), Pattison and Shakespeare (1998), Connell and Evans (1992), Westphal (1991), Nordentoft (1973).

infinite, the age has only finite determinations left'.3 His solution to the confusion and chaos of the present age was to unify it through philosophy, which in his view was 'truth itself'.4 'Only philosophy can go into the many details of our finite goals, particularly our political ones', Heiberg declared, for 'only philosophy can see their tendency toward the infinite and, with this knowledge, clarify their obscure aspects'.5 Thus the most immediate demand of the time, as he saw it, was to arrive at a higher understanding and unity of religion, art, poetry, politics, and science through Hegelian philosophy which by virtue of being recognized as the most comprehensive philosophical system laid claim to being 'the age's own'.6

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