THE QUESTION CONFRONTING SCHLEIERMACHER
How should religion relate to culture? Schleiermacher's famous book, On Religion: Speeches to its Cultured Despisers (1799), presents an epoch-making answer to this question, which I will analyze and interpret in some detail in this chapter. In so doing, I will focus on tensions between Schleiermacher's stress on the relative and culturally conditioned character of historical religions and his attempt in the Speeches to identify what is common to all religions. I will also consider whether or not Schleiermacher's understanding of Christian revelation enters into his evaluation of religion in relation to culture within the context of his contribution to comparative religion. Finally, I will briefly assess the role of culture, in particular that of the arts, in fostering spirituality. I begin with some notes about the meaning of “culture” in Schleiermacher's time, and then I proceed to its relation to religion.
The term “culture” (Kultur in German) refers originally to the sphere of agriculture and husbandry, where one cultivates plants and animals in order to improve them or make them better. By extension to the human realm, a cultured person is one who has improved herself or himself by developing the highest capacities of the mind or talents. In both domains of meaning, culture is an achievement of human purposiveness, which transforms what is given naturally according to the refined and reflected value of goodness.
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