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Zentrum Geschichte des Wissens

Universität Zürich

Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich

Zentrum Geschichte des Wissens

Universität Zürich

Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich

JOANNA NOWOTNY

»Kierkegaard is a Jew!« Jewish Readings of Kierkegaard by Martin Buber, Gershom Scholem, Max Brod, Franz Kafka and others (working title)


Starting around 1900, there is an intense discussion of the philosophy and literature of the ›Christian poet‹ Sören Kierkegaard amongst Jewish intellectuals in many different fields. In German-speaking Europe, this discussion culminates in euphoric and identificatory statements that fully appropriate Kierkegaard for Judaism or the »Jewish way of seeing the world«: »Nowhere« has the »core of the Jewish way of seeing the world« been captured as poignantly as in Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling, says Max Brod in Heidentum ‒ Christentum ‒ Judentum (1921). In his diaries, the seventeen-year-old Gershom Scholem reflects on the »brilliant books« by the Dane and goes as far as to completely appropriate Kierkegaard for Judaism: »Kierkegaard is a Jew!«

Such an empathic reception amongst Jews is remarkable considering the explicitly ›Christian‹ thrust of many of Kierkegaard’s writings. This begs the question of why and in what way Kierkegaard’s work became particularly relevant in the context of Jewish Modernity. How is Kierkegaard’s thought being used in that context, in theological, political and literary ways? What aspects of his writing become particularly attractive and inspirational? What is the impetus of the various interpretations of Kierkegaard and what function do they serve in the broader context, for example in discussions revolving around Jewish identity? Those questions have so far at most been raised marginally; in this project, I will attempt to treat them more thoroughly and in context.

The dissertation is divided into two big parts. The first section deals with the predominantly theoretical reception of Kierkegaard that thinkers such as Scholem, Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig practiced. The material treated mostly consists of philosophical and theological texts as well as autobiographical material such as diaries and letters; both explicit and implicit references are discussed. The second section deals with the literary reception of Kierkegaard and focuses mostly on what has become known as the ›Prager Kreis‹ through the writings of Max Brod. Besides Brod, Franz Kafka and Franz Werfel are of particular interest. The project aims to capture what could be called a dialogical network within which Kierkegaard was read, appropriated, transformed and partly also rejected.