Friday 1 January 2021

Kierkegaard 16 October 1843. George Pattison, Marilyn Piety, C. Stephen Evans, John Lippitt, Jerome (Yehuda) Gellman, Mariam al-Attar conduct Inner Circle Seminars 263, 264, 265, 268, 269, 271 (14, 28 February; 21 March; 23 May; 13 June; 31 October and 28 November 2021)

Kierkegaard 16 October 1843

Fear and Trembling
Three Upbuilding Discourses

Text and Context 

George Pattison   Marilyn Piety   C. Stephen Evans
John Lippitt   Jerome (Yehuda) Gellman   Mariam al-Attar
conduct by Zoom
Inner Circle Seminars Nos. 263, 264, 265, 268, 269, 271
introduced by Anthony Stadlen
14, 28 February; 21 March; 23 May; 13 June; 31 October and 28 November 2021

Søren Kierkegaard and the three books he published on 16 October 1843

Repetition by Constantin Constantius

Fear and Trembling by Johannes de silentio

 Three Upbuilding Discourses by Søren Kierkegaard

Abraham, Isaac, and the angel
(by Rembrandt)
Everyone now seems to be talking about ‘mental health’. But is this the best way of understanding what people are experiencing in this pandemic crisis? Are these not existential, ethical, spiritual, religious problems? But what does ‘existential’ mean? And do not many existential therapists object to the ‘religious’, whatever that means? But do not some existential therapists find religious experience, their own or others’, of fundamental importance? Should not all existential therapists at least understand what their religious clients, or clients who say they have had some religious experience, are talking about?
Existential therapists, whether or not they are aware of this, are implicitly identifying the already existing English word ‘existential’ with the Danish word ‘existentiel’ apparently subsequently coined by Søren Kierkegaard (5 May 1813 – 11 November 1855). His pseudonym Johannes Climacus introduced it in Concluding Unscientific Postscript to the Philosophical Crumbs (1846), described in its subtitle as An Existential Contribution, and containing discussion, for instance, of ‘existential pathos’, to convey thinking with all one’s being, as an ‘existing’ thinker: as opposed to constructing a ‘system’ which, as his pseudonym Anti-Climacus wrote in The Sickness Unto Death (1849), would be like building a house in which one does not live.
Ludwig Feuerbach used the word ‘existence’ in a similar sense, but he wanted to secularise religious thinking, whereas Kierkegaard affirmed authentic religion as irreducible to social ethics (Sædelighed’ in Danish, Sittlichkeit’ in German).
Martin Heidegger translated Kierkegaards ‘existentiel’ into German as existenziell’ but restricted it to what he called the onticfor the ontological he used existenzial’, a word rare in German, though Edmund Husserl had used it in Philosophy as Rigorous Science (1910-11), and Kierkegaard had even on occasion used, perhaps coined, a Danish word existential’, meaning for him the same as existentiel’, in his private writings. He is alternatively alleged to have adopted the word(s) after he learned from a conversation with, or about, the Norwegian poet and critic Johann Sebastian Cammermeyer Welhaven that he used the Norwegian existensiell’ in this way. The poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge had used existential as an English word and meditated on the nature of existence’ in The Friend as early as 1809, before Kierkegaard was born. The philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling influenced ColeridgeKierkegaard, and Heidegger, and was said by Johann Karl Friedrich Rosenkranz to have termed his own later philosophy, orally, Existenzialphilosophie’; but it is by no means clear that Coleridge's use of existential’ or Kierkegaards use of existentiel' or existential' were themselves directly suggested by, or derived from, SchellingNone of these usages, of course, should be confused with, or reduced to, the bare existential quantifier (there exists an x such that...) in subsequent logic and mathematics.  
Kierkegaard insisted that, whether pseudonymous (‘with the left hand’) or in his own name (‘with the right hand’), his writing was always religious, though he denounced institutionalised religion (such as Danish 19th-century ‘Christendom’) as a perversion of authentic, existential religion. Much writing by ‘existential’ therapists censors (and implicitly censures) Kierkegaard’s always-religious writing at the outset, claiming to find its ‘relevant’, secular-‘existential’ meaning. Ludwig Binswanger secularises The Sickness Unto Death in this way in his ‘The Case of Ellen West. But this is just what Kierkegaard was attacking as a betrayal.
Nowhere is this more explicit than in Fear and Trembling: A Dialectical Lyric by Johannes de silentio, published in Copenhagen on 16 October 1843, together with two other books, Repetition: An Essay in Experimental Psychology by Constantin Constantinus and Three Upbuilding Discourses by Søren Kierkegaard. Our seminars on this extraordinary event in publishing history, its context, and its implications, started on 14 October 2018, celebrating these three books’ hundred and seventy-fifth anniversary.
The author of all three books was Kierkegaard, as he acknowledged in ‘A First and Last Declaration’, the further postscript that he, in his own name, added to Concluding Unscientific Postscript.
We are exploring this astonishing creative incandescence in two series of seminars: one series (‘Søren Kierkegaard: Fear and Trembling’) a close reading of this text over a few years, with a fourth seminar in this series this May, conducted by Professor John Lippitt from Sydney, Australia, on its central section of maximal tension and intensity; the other series (‘Kierkegaard: 16 October 1843’) a detailed study of its context, in five ‘satellite’ seminars between February and July.
Fear and Trembling focusses with terrible intensity on the dialectical tension between Abraham’s love and awe for God and his love for his son Isaac. It is a ‘dialectical lyric’ on the Akedah, the account (Genesis, 22:1-19) of Abraham’s ‘binding’ of Isaac in preparation for a sacrifice prevented only by an angel’s last-minute intervention. The meaning of the Akedah has been debated for millennia by Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and (more recently) atheist thinkers. It is chanted from the Torah scroll in synagogues at the New Year, with great textual precision, though everyone is free to propose his or her own interpretation. In Christianity it is held to prefigure the crucifixion of Jesus. The Qur’an does not name Ibrahim’s son in this narrative, and Islamic scholars have debated whether it was Ishmael or Isaac; today it is held to have been Ishmael; animal sacrifices on Eid al-Adha commemorate Ibrahim’s sacrifice of a ram instead of Ishmael. The Akedah has been the basis of many great works of art, music, drama, and poetry.
The ‘satellite’ seminars, conducted by world authorities, including George Pattison, Marilyn Piety, C. Stephen Evans, Jerome (Yehuda) Gellman and Mariam al-Attar, will focus in turn on: the problem of Kierkegaard’s pseudonyms; the two other works (Three Upbuilding Discourses and Repetition) published with Fear and Trembling on 16 October 1843; the interpretations of the Akedah in Kierkegaard and the Hasidic masters; and whether or not some form of ‘divine command theory’ is advocated by Kierkegaard, his pseudonyms, or any or all of the Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity, Islam. (In a dialogue of Plato’s, Euthyphro is confused when Socrates asks him whether the gods love the good because it is good or whether the good is good because the gods love it. Many philosophers have thought that Socrates’s question presents a severe problem for divine command theory, but recently other philosophers have argued that there are forms of this theory not vulnerable to the problem Socrates raises for Euthyphro.)
Kierkegaard insisted in ‘A First and Last Declaration’:
... if it should occur to anyone to want to quote a particular passage from the books, it is my wish, my prayer, that he will do me the kindness of citing the respective pseudonymous author’s name, not mine.
Johannes de silentio, Johannes Climacus, and the other pseudonyms are like characters in a drama written by Kierkegaard. He called it ‘indirect communication’, a dialectic of perspectives which invites the reader to work out his or her own point of view. Much commentary on Fear and Trembling and the other pseudonymous works ignores Kierkegaard’s urgent request to respect their pseudonymous nature.
Here is our sequence of six seminars:
Søren Kierkegaard
Three Upbuilding Discourses
George Pattison
Inner Circle Seminar No. 263
Sunday 14 February 2021
10 a.m. to 1 p.m.    2 p.m. to 5 p.m.   London time (GMT)
Professor George Pattison, English theologian and Anglican priest, has been Professor of Divinity at the University of Glasgow since 2013. He was previously Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity at the University of Oxford. Among his books are Kierkegaard’s Upbuilding Discourses, Kierkegaards Pastoral Dialogues (with Helle Møller Jensen), Kierkegaard and the Theology of the Nineteenth Century, The Mystical Sources of Existentialist Thought, Heidegger on Death; he has translated and edited a selection of Kierkegaard’s Spiritual Writings (including the first two of the Three Uplifting Discourses he will discuss today); and he has edited The Oxford Handbook of Kierkegaard (with John Lippitt). Today he will explain, in the first seminar on the context of Fear and Trembling, the complexity and subtlety of the problem of the pseudonyms. He will then guide us through Three Upbuilding Discourses (1843), discussing among other things why Martin Heidegger regarded these and Kierkegaard’s other upbuilding writings as his most important works philosophically.
Constantine Constantius
Marilyn Piety
Inner Circle Seminar No. 264
Sunday 28 February 2021
2 p.m. to 5 p.m.    6 p.m. to 9 p.m.    London time (GMT)
Professor Marilyn Gaye Piety is Professor of Philosophy in the Department of English and Philosophy at Drexel University, Philadelphia. She is author of many scholarly articles on Kierkegaard and of the book Ways of Knowing: Kierkegaard’s Pluralist Epistemology. She has translated Repetition and Philosophical Crumbs. She is working on a book, Fear and Dissembling: The Copenhagen Kierkegaard Controversies. She is the author of the blog Piety on Kierkegaard. Her insistence on honesty and integrity in academic discourse is exemplary. Today, in the second seminar on the context of Fear and Trembling, she will help us make sense of the brilliant, perplexing short book Repetition, and the many conflicting interpretations it has received; and she will relate it to the other books, Fear and Trembling and Three Upbuilding Discourses, also published on 16 October 1843.
Kierkegaard and Divine Command Theory
C. Stephen Evans
Inner Circle Seminar No. 265
Sunday 21 March 2021
11 a.m. to 1 p.m.    2 p.m. to 3.45 p.m.    4.15 p.m. to 6 p.m.    London time (GMT)  
Professor C. Stephen Evans is University Professor of Philosophy and Humanities at Baylor University, Waco, Texas. He has been Curator of the Howard and Edna Hong Kierkegaard Library at Saint Olaf College, Minnesota. His books include Kierkegaard’s Fragments and Postscript: The Religious Philosophy of Johannes Climacus, God and Moral Obligation, Kierkegaard’s Ethic of Love: Divine Commands and Moral Obligations, Foundations of Kierkegaard’s Vision of Community: Religion, Ethics and Politics in Kierkegaard, A History of Western Philosophy: From the Presocratics to Postmodernism, Kierkegaard and Spirituality: Accountability as the Meaning of Human Existence, and many others. He has edited, with Sylvia Walsh, a new translation of Fear and Trembling. In todays seminar, the third on the context of that book, Anthony Stadlen will lead a two-hour morning discussion on the phenomenology of ancient and modern divine discourse, the Euthyphro dilemmaand ‘divine command theory’; and in a four-hour afternoon session (with half-hour break) C. Stephen Evans will disentangle the subtle varieties of that theory in Fear and TremblingWorks of Love, and more recent philosophical writing.
Johannes de silentio
Fear and Trembling 4
Problemata 1 and 2
John Lippitt 
Inner Circle Seminar No. 268
Sunday 23 May 2021 
2 p.m. to 5 p.m.    6 p.m. to 8 p.m.    9 p.m. to 10 p.m.   London time (BST)
Professor John Lippitt is Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Institute for Ethics and Society at the University of Notre Dame Australia, based in Sydney. He is also Visiting Professor at the University of Hertfordshire, UK where he previously worked for twenty-eight years. He is author of many papers and books on Kierkegaard, including the Routledge Guide to Fear and Trembling, Love’s Forgiveness, Kierkegaard and the Problem of Self-Love, Humour and Irony in Kierkegaard’s Thought, and editor of The Oxford Handbook of Kierkegaard (with George Pattison) and Narrative, Identity and the Kierkegaardian Self (with Patrick Stokes). He has already guided us in the second and third seminars on the text of Fear and Trembling. In the fourth seminar in the series on the text, we shall discuss, in a structured way suggested by him, his brilliant pre-recorded reflections on the intense central section, Problema 1: Is there a teleological suspension of the ethical? and Problema 2: Is there an absolute duty to God? The seminar will culminate in his personal interactive Zoom presence from Australia in his early Monday morning and our British late evening. 
The Akedah in Kierkegaard and the Hasidic Masters
Jerome (Yehuda) Gellman
Inner Circle Seminar No. 269
Sunday 13 June 2021
10 a.m. to 1 p.m.    2 p.m. to 5 p.m.    London time (BST)
Professor Jerome (Yehuda) Gellman is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Philosophy of Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Israel. He has published many papers and books on religion, Jewish mysticism, Kabbalah, and Hasidism, including The Fear, the Trembling, and the Fire, Experience of God and the Rationality of Religious Belief, Mystical Experience of God: A Philosophical Inquiry, Abraham! Abraham! Kierkegaard and the Hasidim on the Binding of Isaac, This was from God: A Contemporary Theology of Torah and History, Perfect Goodness and the God of the Jews: A Contemporary Jewish TheologyThe History of Evil from the Mid-Twentieth Century to Today. Today, in the fourth seminar on the context of Fear and Trembling, he will explore the interpretations of the Akedah by Kierkegaard and the Hasidic masters, as well as the tradition of Hasidic therapy.  
Divine Command Theory in Early and Contemporary Islam
Mariam al-Attar
Inner Circle Seminar No. 271
Sundays 31 October and 28 November 2021
1 p.m. to 4 p.m. London time (GMT)
Professor Mariam al-Attar teaches Arab heritage, introduction to philosophy, and Islamic philosophy at the American University of Sharjah, United Arab Emirates. She has taught at the University of Jordan and at King's Academy in Jordan. Her research interests include ethics in medieval Arabo-Islamic thought, modern and contemporary Arab moral thought, and women and gender in the Islamic tradition. She is also a qualified physicist and has worked as a clinical scientist in Jordanian hospitals and in the United Kingdom. Her papers include ‘Divine command ethics in the Islamic legal tradition’ and ‘Meta-ethics: A Quest for Epistemological Basis of Morality in Classical Islamic Thought’. Today, in the fifth seminar on the context of Fear and Trembling, she will continue our exploration starting from the story of Ibrahim (Abraham) in the Quran and in the Islamic tradition; and she will cite evidence from her book Islamic Ethics: Divine Command Theory in Arabo-Islamic Thought that, although many Islamic thinkers have endorsed ‘divine command theory’, Islamic tradition in general contradicts this.
This exceptional constellation of speakers and seminars on the foundational existential thinker Kierkegaard and the religious and philosophical context in which he wrote will perhaps help existential therapists to reach a deeper understanding of both him and his context.
Evaluations of Kierkegaard differ wildly.
For example, Ludwig Wittgenstein, himself a profound thinker of the 20th century, said Kierkegaard was ‘by far the most profound thinker of the last [19th] century’, ‘too deep for me’. But Ernesto Spinelli, an existential therapist, in 2017 denounced Kierkegaard’s ‘dangerous folly’ in allegedly admiring Abraham’s ‘self-evident lunacy’. This is in line with a long history of clinical-psychiatric thinking: for example, Dr Abraham Myerson in 1945 diagnosed Kierkegaard as ‘a psychiatric case’, and his writing as ‘a schizoid and certainly utterly incomprehensible presentation by a mind which is quite deviate’.
Are these demystifying insights? Or is the existential tradition here degenerating into abject uncomprehending psychiatric reductionism?
Those who have acknowledged indebtedness to, or have struggled with, Søren Kierkegaard include Henrik Ibsen, August Strindberg, Edvard Munch, Miguel de Unamano, Rainer Maria Rilke, Martin Buber, Theodor Haecker, Ludwig Binswanger, Ferdinand Ebner, Igor Stravinsky, Viktor Emil von Gebsattel, Karl Jaspers, Franz Kafka, Rudolf Bultmann, György Lukács, Niels Bohr, Karl Barth, Paul Tillich, Charles Williams, Franz Rosenzweig, Georg Trakl, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Martin Heidegger, Dietrich von Hildebrand, Emil Brunner, Edith Stein, Herbert Read, Mikhail Bakhtin, Jorge Luis Borges, Jean-Paul Sartre, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Hannah Arendt, Emmanuel Levinas, Abraham Joshua Heschel, W. H. Auden, Maurice Blanchot, Simone de Beauvoir, Rollo May, R. S. Thomas, Albert Camus, Emil Fackenheim, Iris Murdoch, Thomas Szasz, Alice von Hildebrand, Aaron Esterson, Paul Feyerabend, Frantz Fanon, R. D. Laing, Martin Luther King, Jr., Jacques Derrida, David Cooper, John Updike, David Lodge, Henrik Stangerup, and many others. 
Kierkegaard’s idea of authentic religion differed from everybody else’s. He had contempt for the Danish Church: for ‘Christendom’, as he called it. For him, religion was radically existential, individual. But his vision of the individual was the antithesis of an encapsulated, isolated, unsocial, worldless, reified ‘self’. Rather, as Anti-Climacus put it in The Sickness Unto Death, the ‘self’ is a ‘relation’ which ‘relates itself to its own self’; it is ‘that in the relation that the relation relates itself to its own self’, while ‘resting in the [divine] power that established it’; and, as Kierkegaard insisted in his own name in Works of Love (1847), this ‘self’ is only truly itself in loving God and, inextricably, the other: the other-as-‘neighbour, whether spouse, child, family member, friend, neighbour, stranger.
One of Heidegger’s most important early courses of lectures was on The Phenomenology of Religious Life (1920-21). Heidegger wrote in Being and Time (1927) that, of all Kierkegaard’s writings, his ‘upbuilding’ (i.e., explicitly religious) works had the most philosophical significance.
Kierkegaard’s work is a fundamental investigation of the existential phenomenology of individual, non-institutionalised, religious experience, as well as the religious implications of all experience, indispensable for unprejudiced understanding of both ‘religious’ and ‘non-religious’ clients.
Above all, perhaps, as Professor John Lippitt, who has been guiding our reading of Fear of Trembling, has pointed out in his book Humour and Irony in Kierkegaard’s Thought and elsewhereSøren Kierkegaard can be very funny. His readers take the risk of being compelled to laugh out loud. As his pseudonym Johannes Climacus wrote in Concluding Unscientific Postscript:
... an existing humorist is the closest approximation to one who is religious ...
It is hoped that these seminars, on the text and context of Fear and Trembling, will enable existential therapists, Daseinsanalysts and others, to reflect more deeply on the foundations of their discipline. All of the invited speakers hope to attend, or at least study reports of, some of their colleagues seminars, in addition to those they are themselves conducting. As one of them commented: ‘This looks like a real intellectual feast.’ Our dialogical tradition will surely be much enhanced.  

These will be online seminars, using Zoom. All are on Sundays, but the times for some of them will differ (see above) from the usual 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Greenwich Mean Time or British Summer Time, to accommodate invited speakers from distant lands.

Individual Kierkegaard seminars: psychotherapy trainees £132, others £165
Six Kierkegaard seminars 14 February 2021 to 28 November 2021: psychotherapy trainees £588 (= £98 per seminar), others £738 (= £123 per seminar) - a reduction of about 25% - payment may be spread over six months
Some bursaries; payable in advance by bank transfer or PayPal; no refunds or transfers unless seminar cancelled 
Apply to: Anthony Stadlen, ‘Oakleigh’, 2A Alexandra Avenue, London N22 7XE
Tel: +44 (0) 7809 433250   E-mail:
For further information on seminars, visit:

The Inner Circle Seminars were founded by Anthony Stadlen in 1996 as an ethical, existential, phenomenological search for truth in psychotherapy. They have been kindly described by Thomas Szasz as ‘Institute for Advanced Studies in the Moral Foundations of Human Decency and Helpfulness’. But they are independent of all institutes, schools and universities.

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