To explain the current impasse in scholarship on Schleiermacher and feminism, a key is needed. Contradictory conclusions have hindered the advance of Schleiermacher research in this area. For example, some scholars emphasize Schleiermacher's high valuation of women's moral and religious character and his 1798 “Idee zu einem Katechismus der Vernunft für edle Frauen” (KGA, I.2, 153-4). They therefore correctly deem him a friend of contemporary feminist issues. Other scholars point to his stands against the political, educational, and social liberation of women and rightly call him an opponent of women's civil rights. Most accurately, those scholars who realize that his “feminine impulses” and “anti-feminist exclusion of women from public life” are not easily separated wisely call for more research because something seems amiss.
These disparate judgments can be explained by investigating the ideas in Schleiermacher's work on which they are based. Most significant is what Schleiermacher called his “doctrine of the soul,” consisting of his analysis of how the human spirit organizes human feeling and thereby gives rise to human consciousness. Schleiermacher used male and female gender images and concepts to describe this unitive structure of human consciousness. His descriptive and prescriptive use of the same set of terms created a structural confusion in his work. The key to unraveling this structural confusion is found in Schleiermacher's “doctrine of human affections,” which included the art of the use of music to stir the affections. In this “doctrine of human affections” Schleiermacher created a set of gender images that moved beyond the restrictive gender biases of his own Prussian, Protestant, religious world.