Schleiermacher wrote On Religion as a defense of the Christian faith against the challenges of Enlightenment philosophy. The book consists of five speeches in which Schleiermacher advances three ideas. He argues that humans are evolving and changing, that God’s work must be universal, and that piety is the emotional response of the finite’s dependence on the infinite.
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If a book can signal the beginning of an era, then Schleiermacher’s On Religion: Speeches to its Cultured Despisers marks the beginning of the era of Protestant Liberal Theology.
—Jack Forstman, former dean emeritus, Vanderbilt Divinity School
Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768–1834) was born in Breslau, Silesia, Prussia. His father was a Reformed chaplain in the Prussian army. Schleiermacher attended a Moravian school and eventually went to the University of Halle. He graduated from Halle in 1794 and began to tutor the children of an aristocratic family. He left after two years and took up a chaplaincy at a hospital in Berlin. While in Berlin, Schleiermacher was influenced by the Romantic movement, particularly the emphasis on imagination and emotion. He read the works of Baruch Spinoza, Plato, Immanuel Kant, Fichte, and Schelling. In 1802 he became the pastor of a congregation in Stolp, Pomerania. He left in 1804 to accept a position as preacher and professor of theology at the University of Halle. In 1807, he accepted an offer to become pastor of Trinity Church in Berlin. While there, he helped found the University of Berlin and accepted a chair of theology. He also became the secretary of the Prussian Academy of Sciences. Schleiermacher’s advocacy of the unification of the Reformed and Lutheran branches of the German church led to the Prussian Union of Churches in 1817. Schleiermacher wrote his magnum opus, Der christliche Glaube nach den Grundsätzen der evangelischen Kirche (The Christian Faith according to the Principles of the Protestant Church), in 1821 and revised it in 1831.