IN SEARCH OF ADEQUATE FAITH: RELIGIOUS SKEPTICISM IN GERMAN LETTERS (1750-1800)
Stoltz, Matthew Thomas
The following dissertation, “In Search of Adequate Faith: Religious Skepticism in German Letters (1750–1800),” is an interdisciplinary study exploring the religious writings of Klopstock, Lessing, and Novalis. During the mid- to late-eighteenth century the struggle to articulate a distinctly modern faith becomes audible across the literary and aesthetic works of writers who were committed to making the biblical tradition more appealing to an increasingly skeptical age. Rather than driving a wedge between sacred and secular cultures, these writers promised greater spiritual cohesion. Instead of simply yielding to the authority of tradition and scripture, their works strove to articulate more adequate means of forging religious bonds. This study investigates how a number of writers turned the spirit of religion into a weapon, which precipitated a second reformation in the latter half of the eighteenth century. How did literature and aesthetics challenge the authority of the five Lutheran Solae? How might they offer more effective strategies for reconciling faith and reason than philosophy and theology? What role did material and visual culture play in mediating religious experience at this time? To answer these questions, I analyze a constellation of documents associated with each writer. My first chapter interrogates the poetic methodology of Klopstock’s Der Messias by exploring his extensive amplification of the New Testament figure Doubting Thomas. In my analysis, Klopstock's poetics inadvertently reproduce Thomas’ tragic “mistake” by doubting the efficacy of unaided scripture to communicate religious truth; a doubt that he attempts to resolve by intensifying the reader’s affective experience of the gospel narratives. My second chapter argues that Lessing develops a more powerful defense against religious skepticism than Klopstock by appealing to the spirit of religion rather than to the authority of its letter. By reorienting faith around the spirit of religion, Lessing sparks a Copernican turn in religious consciousness that helped emancipate modern believers from theological regimes that had become increasingly normative in their approach to the letter of scripture. My final chapter considers how Novalis confronts the ways in which Lessing and the Protestant tradition deminishes the value of sensible forms of religious mediation by “spiritualizing” modern faith. Unlike Lessing, Novalis insists that revealed knowledge demands material mediation like images and symbols in order to (re)shape and (re)generate religious experience.
Literature; Aesthetics; Theology
Fleming, Paul A.
Gilgen, Peter; Saccamano, Neil Charles
Ph.D., Germanic Studies
Doctor of Philosophy
dissertation or thesis