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“Ich wäre ein Judenfeind?”: Zum Antijudaismus in Friedrich Schleiermachers Theologie und Pädagogik, by Matthias Blum. Beiträge zur Historischen Bildungsforschung, Band 42. Cologne, Weimar, Wien: Böhlau Verlag, 2010. 256 pp. €34.90.
Matthias Blum’s important book takes on the task announced in its subtitle of documenting and analyzing the antijudaism of Friedrich Schleiermacher’s theology and theory of education. The book argues that extant German scholarship minimizes Schleiermacher’s complicity in the tragic story of German antijudaism and that his educational theory, by incorporating his Christian apologetic views regarding human inwardness and development, further extends his social and political antijudaism.
Published in a series that treats the history of educational theory, the book is organized into two distinct sections: The first, pp. 1–97, treats antijudaic themes, metaphors, directly stated arguments, and social-political positions in Schleiermacher’s career. The second section, pp. 98–208 maintains that Schleiermacher’s educational theory is intimately related to his theology, hence—by extension—similarly antijudaic, and even more wide-reaching in its impact. A set of conclusions, pp. 209–229, places the discussion within the thorny context of Jewish history in Germany and in the West generally. In all this, Blum rightly contends that the pre-Auschwitz legacy matters deeply and dearly for a proper understanding of the tragic dimensions of Jewish existence within Germany.
The first section covers a range of topics from Schleiermacher’s corpus: a set of his aphorisms on Jewish emancipation; his On Religion: Speeches to its Cultured Despisers and Letters on the Occasion of the Political-Theological Task and the Open Letter on Jewish Householders, both from 1799; the Brogi-Klaatsch affair of 1812 at the university of Berlin in which Fichte resigned as rector when the faculty senate punished both perpetrator and victim of a student anti-Jewish provocation, while Schleiermacher thought punishment was only deserved by the victim; various of the theologian’s mature works, including sermons and his dogmatic theology, The Christian Faith.
The second major section claims that the educational theory of Schleiermacher is so freighted with implications and assumptions of his theology that it constitutes a second level — if you will—of ongoing antijudaism. Much less well-known in English-speaking circles, the posthumously published pedagogical thought of Schleiermacher remains a significant influence upon German pedagogy and educational theory. The premier theologian of modern Protestant liberalism also counts in his homeland as the founder of modern pedagogy.
Few English-speaking scholars have covered the major German literature on Schleiermacher and the Jews. Readers of this review may wish to be aware that Julie Klassen and I have co-translated Schleiermacher’s Letters on the Occasion, plus the opinions of the surrounding Judaic and Christian discussion partners (David Friedländer, Wilhelm Abraham Teller) in the 1799 debate regarding Jewish emancipation for Hackett Publishing, 2004 (not Cambridge, as cited in Blum). At one level Matthias Blum has issued a challenge that we all need to take seriously. Invoking the familiar distinction between antisemitism and antijudaism (opposition based on theological difference, not racial, ethnic, or national prejudices), his work makes clear that theological supersessionism (and the anti-legalism of Pauline tradition) by invalidating Judaism as religion contributes to broader, virulent denials of the legitimacy of Jewish existence.
At the same time, this book also needs to be read with a slightly raised eyebrow as a full depiction of Schleiermacher (1768–1834) as philosopher, theologian, and Berlin public intellectual in the midst of Jewish contemporaries. The author’s methodology and assumptions contribute to a portrait of Schleiermacher in which the nuances of his time and place are underplayed to conform with a general picture of his work as hostile to Judaism. That is done at a price. If we give up distinguishing various aspects of antijudaism, then all criticism of the tradition is virulent in its nature, including the voices of Jews who were themselves wrestling with orthodox forms of their religion in its modern setting. Blum’s book does not study Schleiermacher’s teaching within the tormented set of circumstances, aspirations, and discussion partners in his day. Nor is attention given to the tension and conflict between Enlightenment and Romanticism in shaping the overall stance of the theologian (four pages, pp. 100–104, are devoted to Schleiermacher’s Bildungsgang), or to probing Schleiermacher’s politics in the era of Prussian reform and church-state conflicts (when he was frequently under suspicion of authorities). Blum seems to think it only lip service (later fully undercut) when in his first Letter on Occasion Schleiermacher denies a religious test for citizenship with the words: “Reason demands that all should be citizens, but it does not require that all must be Christians, and thus it must be possible in many ways to be a citizen and a non-Christian. . . .” To dismiss that claim would be like dismissing the significance of Jefferson’s proclamation of human equality on grounds that he did less than live his credo fully. Blum chides readings of Schleiermacher as “a child of his times” (including work by the late Kurt Nowak and by Matthias Wolfes), as if such treatments merely exonerate Schleiermacher’s teachings by arguing that they are less severely antijudaic than earlier German or subsequent voices. In place of contextualized historical judgments and a differentiated picture of Jews and Jewish aspirations in Schleiermacher’s era, Blum reads texts immanently while asserting that the fabric of Schleiermacher’s thought on the matter—especially his educational theory’s implications for Judaism—constitutes an instance of Gadamer’s effective historical consciousness. Perhaps that is legitimate. But Blum’s judgments stretch across history—often, for this reader, too conveniently—to include testimony that ranges from Tacitus, Marcion, and John Chrysostom, down to Heinrich Treitschke, Heinrich Graetz, and Rudolf Bultmann. Without any question, Schleiermacher contributed mightily to the supersessionist tradition that asserts Christian truth has supplanted that of Judaic religion. But not all forms of antijudaism or even of German nationalism are equivalent. There is limited utility in exaggerating the difficulties, or in blurring over the ways in which other aspects of Schleiermacher’s legacy (e.g., respect for individual freedom) might mitigate the extremes of interreligious hostility and racial hatreds of our troubled world.
Professor of Religious Studies Emeritus