Richard Crouter’s book, Between Enlightenment and Romanticism, is a comprehensive study of the intellectual and cultural context of Friedrich Schleiermacher, a key figure in the development of modern Protestant theology. Crouter’s book offers a detailed examination of Schleiermacher’s thought and its place within the broader cultural and intellectual currents of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. This review will examine some of the key themes and arguments of the book, organized under several headings.
Context and Background
Crouter begins his study with an overview of the intellectual and cultural context in which Schleiermacher lived and worked. He notes the growing influence of Enlightenment thought in Germany in the late 18th century, particularly in the form of Kantian philosophy and its emphasis on reason, autonomy, and individualism. At the same time, he also points to the emergence of a new Romantic sensibility, which emphasized the importance of emotion, intuition, and imagination in human experience. Schleiermacher’s thought, Crouter argues, can be understood as a response to these two dominant intellectual currents.
Theology and Religion
Crouter devotes much of his book to an analysis of Schleiermacher’s theology and his views on religion. He notes Schleiermacher’s emphasis on the experiential dimension of religion, particularly the feeling of absolute dependence on a transcendent reality. Schleiermacher saw this feeling as the foundation of all religion, and sought to articulate a theology that could accommodate it. Crouter argues that Schleiermacher’s theology can be seen as a response to the challenges posed by Enlightenment rationalism, which had largely rejected traditional Christian doctrine.
Hermeneutics and Interpretation
Another major theme of Crouter’s book is Schleiermacher’s contribution to the development of hermeneutics, or the theory of interpretation. Schleiermacher was one of the first thinkers to recognize that interpretation is an inherently subjective process, shaped by the interpreter’s own context and presuppositions. He argued that the goal of interpretation was not to uncover the author’s original intent, but rather to engage in a dialogue with the text that could yield new insights and perspectives. Crouter shows how Schleiermacher’s hermeneutical insights continue to influence literary and cultural theory today.
Politics and Society
Finally, Crouter examines Schleiermacher’s views on politics and society. He notes that Schleiermacher was a proponent of liberal democracy, and saw politics as a sphere in which individuals could exercise their autonomy and pursue their own interests. However, he also recognized the importance of social bonds and community, and believed that individuals had a responsibility to contribute to the common good. Crouter argues that Schleiermacher’s political thought reflects his broader concern with balancing individualism and communal values.
Overall, Between Enlightenment and Romanticism is a valuable contribution to the study of Schleiermacher and his intellectual context. Crouter’s book is well-research and engagingly written, and provides a thorough overview of Schleiermacher’s thought and its broader cultural significance. While the book may be most relevant to scholars of theology and intellectual history, its insights into the interplay between Enlightenment and Romantic thought are relevant to anyone interested in the development of modern Western culture.