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Public Theology: Soren Kierkegaard (1815-1855)
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Soren Kierkegaard (1815-1855)
Often referred to as the founder of Existentialism, new writing puts this significant thinker in the midst of his political and social context.

| Quotations | Introduction | Primary Writings | Annotated Bibliography | Resource Centers | Web References |


I went to visit the grave of Soren Kierkegaard during a visit to Copenhagen in Denmark in 1993. He is buried in a city cemetary. It seemed odd to me. There he was, a philosopher of the single individual, buried in the Kierkegaard family plot.

Somehow, I had expected to see a single grave for this philosopher who wrote to "the individual." I had not read Kierkegaard in my later seminary years because he seemed to me to focus only on that single individual before God. That was generally the interpretation of Kierkegaard at the time.

Furthermore, theology professors oriented to Lutheran pietism used Kierkegaard to support what seemed to me to be an escapist theology, a theology that had little to do with actual life in the world, with social structures and institutions. I called it a "telephone booth theology," it was just God and the individual, with no reference to the social context of human life. Kierkegaard was best known twenty years ago as the founder of existentialism, a philosophy, again, that puts the focus on the single individual.

However, from time to time I have picked up one of my old books by Kierkegaard, especially Concluding Unscientific Postscript, and have been shocked to be reminded of where I learned what had become for me such familiar, habitual thoughts. And more recently a number of books have been written by authors who demonstrate that Kierkegaard's concern was not merely the single individual; they are exploring Kierkegaard's social thought, his relation to current postmodern thinkers, and his role as a "public" theologian.

So it is of particular interest to me to try to put together a brief web page on Soren Kierkegaard, as a way of introducing others to this remarkable and enigmatic figure who still has something to say to us more than a century after his death. The first version of this page was constructed more than six years ago and many of the links are outdated. We will try to update these at some point.


Soren Kierkegaard was born in 1813 and died in 1855.


"Above all, do not lose your desire to walk. every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness. I have walked myself into my best thoughts and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it...but by sitting still, and the more one sits still, the closer one comes to feeling ill...If one just keeps on walking everything will be all right." (Soren Kierkegaard)

I must find a truth that is true for me... the idea for which I can live or die. - Søren Kierkegaard

Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards. -- Soren Kierkegaard

One should not think slightingly of the paradoxical, for the paradox is the source of the thinker's passion, and the thinker without a paradox is like a lover without a feeling: a paltry mediocrity...The supreme paradox of all thought is the attempt to discover something that thought cannot think. - Soren Kierkegaard.


Primary Writings

  • It is possible to go into most any bookstore and find works by Kierkegaard. Look in the philosophy and/or the religion sections.
  • The Present Age translated by Richard Hooker, with notes.


Annotated Bibliography

    This bibliography is not meant to include everything written about Kierkegaard. The emphasis will be on more recent works, especially those which place him within a postmodern context. Underlined text points to a review or reference elsewhere on the Internet. Assistance is requested for adding items here.

  • Kierkegaard in Post/Modernity Book edited by Martin J. Matustik and Merold Westphal. Placed in dialogue with Buber, Derrida, Freud, Gadamer, Habermas, Heidegger, Irigaray, Kristeva, Levinas, Sartre, and Wittgenstein, Soren Kierkegaard emerges as a vital participant in some of the liveliest controversies in modern philosophy. Indiana University Press, 1995. An earlier work is available: Martin J. Matustik: Postnational Identity: Critical Theory and Existential Philosophy in Habermas, Kierkegaard, and Havel (New York & London, Guilford Press, 1993).
  • Kirmmse, Bruce H. Kierkegaard in Golden Age Denmark. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1990. This is a very extensive social historical study of the context within which Kierkegaard lived and worked. Pointing out that a major shift was occurring during this period away from an elitist traditional culture, Kirmmse observes that "there are major obstacles to assimilating kierkegaard's view of politics and society to the view which was shared by his elitist colleagues. first of all, it seems indeed strange that kierkegaard, who fell out with his golden age colleagues on practically every important point concerning religion and philosophy, should share their political conservatism and their elitist obliviousness to what was happening in the society around them. secondly, and even more damaging, the traditional, conservative interpretation of kierkegaard's politics always breaks down when it attempts to account for the very remarkable and vociferous 'attack on christendom' which he carried out in the last years of his life. he called for nothing less than the total dismantling of the traditional aristocractic-conservative synthesis known as 'christiandom' or 'christian culture,' which was the time-honored and comfortable marrieage of the 'horizontal' element of traditional society and the 'vertical' element of religious transcendence, a synthesis in which religion had served as the guarantor of social stability, 'moral values,' and personal significance. this very christiandom which was the target of kierkegaard's final authorship was the matrix in which the luxuriant cultural life of the golden age (of denmark) had blossomed, and without which it quickly withered." (page 3)
  • Kierkegaard's Ecclesiology A paper by Charles L. Creegan, NC Wesleyan College. This is the only paper found in the gopher resources of the Kierkegaard Library at St. Olaf College.
  • Westphal, Merold. Kierkegaard's Critique of Reason and Society. University Park, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1991. This is a collection of essays which appeared separately and here brought together. Westphal suggests Kierkegaard is a philosophical prophet in that he represents in the nineteenth century a stage of philosophical development that has occurred also in the twentieth century. "The paths that lead from Heidegger to Derrida and from Wittgenstein to Rorty are what I call the Kierkegaardian stage of twentieth-century philosophy, the increasingly emphatic denial that philosophy can or should try to be scientific. Kierkegaard should now be included as a full partner in contemporary philosophical discussion." (p. 2) The view that Kierkegaard's orientations are irrational can no longer be sustained. Furthermore, Kierkegaard engages in a critique of society not unlike Nietsche, Marx, and Freud, but does so from a Lutheran hesitancy about reason in the context of Christian faith, not atheism. This suggests that ideology critique is not limited to those with no religious faith.
  • Hall, Ronald. Word and Spirit: A Kierkegaardian Critique of the Modern Age. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1993. The freedom of the individual self is a characteristic modern theme now questioned in postmodern philosophy. In this book Hall suggests Kierkegaard cannot be associated with postmodernists because he placed such emphasis on the choice of the individual. "By virtue of the power of choice, each of us, on occasion, and to some degree, can come to ourselves, can become the self that each of us already essentially is. In this choice we remain the same ourselves, what each of us already essentially is gets taken up and appropriated as our own. As Kierkegaard puts it: 'He remains himself, exactly the same as he was before, down to the most insignificant feature, and yet he becomes another, for the choice penetrates everything and changes it.'" (p. 2) The choice is an act of faith relating ourselves to ourselves and to God, to exist before God over against reliance upon things in the world which are not the absolute which is God. This occurs through word since past, present, future are created in language and this is the realm of the spirit, over against the demonic, which Hall associates with the visual and the romantic, that which is limited only to the present tense. Some postmodernists oppose the very idea of linear time, of course, and so in this way too Kierkegaard cannot be said to support a postmodern perspective. But this does not mean the modern is somehow qualitatively superior. Hall says that "Modernity, as we might put it, is the illegitimate child of Christianity. Brought forth as a possibility by the advent of spirit, the modern age has turned spirit against itself; it has become demonic through and through." The demonic can be satisfactorily addressed only by word and spirit. Just how this is so is discussed in a most interesting way by Hall, who places very high confidence in the speech act.


Resource Centers

  • International Kierkegaard Information Base By Dr. Julia Watkin, University of Tasmania, Australia. This is best electronic resource in English for Kierkegaard materials, bibliographies, lists of conferences and Kierkegaard societies around the world, and announcements of Kierkegaard events.
  • Copenhagen University, Department of Kierkegaard Research
  • Kierkegaard Library at St. Olaf College This is a major library for Kierkegaard materials. No web page is available, but the messages of the Kierkegaard Internet mailing list can be read. To subscribe, send a mail message containing the word "subscribe" to The Kierkegaard Library Director is Cynthia Lund whose email address is
  • DiS DiS is one of the oldest and most highly regarded study abroad programs for English-speaking students in Europe. Founded in 1959 and located in the very center of Copenhagen, Denmark's beautiful capital and one of Europe's great cities, it offers what is possibly one of the richest study abroad experiences you can get. One of the courses offered is Kierkegaard: Philosophy and the Meaning of Life taught by Marilyn Gaye Piety of the Institute of Søren Kierkegaard Research, University of Copenhagen.
  • Københavns Bymuseum Copenhagen Museum, which has a small exhibition of Kierkegaard items, including a writing desk and a chest made for Regina.
  • Project Runeberg founded in December 1992, is an open and voluntary initiative to create and collect free electronic editions of classic Nordic literature and art. These items are not in English, but this is a resource that may provide Kierkegaard materials in the future.


Web Site References

Web sites which reference Kierkegaard literature are listed here. Many of the links are quite old. We will be updating these.

  • Kierkegaard on the Internet A homepage listing Kierkegaard references on the Internet. Good resources! Being constructed February, 1996.
  • Timeline of Important Philosophical Figures List of dates and philosophers/theologians.
  • Richard Hooker on Kierkegaard This is an interesting article in the World Culture study at Washington State University.
  • Interview with Mark C. Taylor Mark C. Taylor, currently writing a great deal about telecommunications and religion, indicates here that Kierkegaard is one of his major influences.
  • Nineteenth Century Philosophy This site contains one page for Kierkegaard within the context of other 19th century philosophers.
  • The Reality of the Virtual A paper by by David Bruce Albert Jr., Ph. D. (1995) which mentions Kierkegaard's understanding of "reality".
  • What is a Hacker? "A lesson on the history of philosophy may seem out of place in a position paper by a computer scientist about a pragmatic problem. But Kierkegaard, who lived a century before the electronic computer, gave us the most profound understanding of what a hacker is. A hacker is an aesthete."
  • Shadows and Fog: Stages on Woody's Way Kierkegaard's Stages on Life's Way is used to anaylse a Woody Allen film.
  • Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) Kierkegaard influenced many other thinkers; here is a Martin Heidegger page, whose philosophy provided the basis of Rudolf Bultmann's theology.
  • The Grundtvig Centre Quoted from this page: "Three Danes who lived during the 19th century are widely known to the world at large: the author of poems and fairy-tales, Hans Christian Andersen; the philosopher Søren Kierkegaard; and the theologian and poet N.F.S. Grundtvig (1783-1872). Of these three, it is Grundtvig who has most obviously left his mark on Danish society, as well as on the Danish Church."
  • The Alienation Man Three Twentieth Century European Nobel Prize Winners
  • The Present Danger To Science and Society by Frederick Seitz. Likens human position on earth today to Kierkegaard's image of "a Seaman Adrift."
  • Beliefs, Thoughts, Quotes Kierkegaard on paradox.


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Date Added: 9/30/2001 Date Revised: 9/30/2001

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