Søren Kierkegaard’s Existential Hermeneutics


Although widely recognised for his contribution to the fields of Western philosophy and psychology, Denmark’s Søren Kierkegaard was first and foremost a religious author. In this simple truth lies the key to unlocking the underlying convictions of Kierkegaard’s vast corpus. In a rare moment of biographical reflection, Kierkegaard allows his readers a brief glance inside the religious world of his mind when he candidly writes that ‘the whole of my work as an author is related to Christianity, to the problem of ‘becoming a Christian.’’ (1)

Above all else, Kierkegaard was clearly motivated by a desire to compel his readers toward a personal decision in response to the offer of Christ to take up one’s cross and follow him (Matt. 16:24-26). Kierkegaard understood the process of following Christ as being a lifelong journey of discovery that transversed what he called the ‘stages on life’s way.’ A staggering number of literary devices and genres were employed by Kierkegaard in order to explore what following Christ might mean for the individual who proclaims him as Lord: irony, polemic, indirect communication and use of pseudonyms, social commentary etc. (2) Underlying all this diversity-and unsurprisingly for someone with such a dedication to the theme of discipleship- is a fierce commitment to Scripture and theology as paramount in terms of his own self-understanding. But how did Kierkegaard use and interpret Scripture and theological tradition as a source of primary inspiration for his life’s work? In spite of the wealth of scholarly literature dedicated to him, relatively little has been written about Kierkegaard’s theological hermeneutics. (3) This may in part be due to the complexity involved in discerning Kierkegaard’s own position on the issues he writes about. The pseudonymous writings in particular pose unique problems in terms of figuring out exactly what Kierkegaard was advocating. (4) This difficulty has likely contributed to Kierkegaard’s hermeneutic category as falling within the post-structuralist method, the more so considering Kierkegaard’s rejection of the then-dominant Hegelianism. (5) However, in its assumption that there are no underlying principles and realities beyond that of linguistics, Kierkegaard’s idea of the ‘qualitative leap’ toward God appear to pose a barrier to him being understood in this light. (6)     

Thankfully, new ways of understanding Kierkegaard’s hermeneutic theory are emerging. In what is the most comprehensive treatment of the subject to date, Jolita Pons has convincingly argued that in line with his more popular casting as an existentialist philosopher, Kierkegaard displays a distinctively ‘existential hermeneutic.’ (7) The following essay, therefore, aims to make a humble contribution to the ongoing debate surrounding Kierkegaard’s hermeneutic method, which places the individual at the centre of the action. To explore this further I will first offer an overview of Kierkegaard’s place within the existentialist tradition. I will then engage with two of his important works which display a distinctly existential approach to his interpretation of Christianity: Fear and Trembling and Either/Or. Finally, I will examine Kierkegaard’s methods of pseudonymous authorship and indirect communication, and conclude with a brief reflection on Kierkegaard’s relevance for contemporary theology.

The ‘Father of Existentialism’

In 1892 theologian Martin Kähler’s Der sogenannte historische Jesus und der geschichtliche biblische Christus  (8) challenged the prevailing assumptions of the historical-critical hermeneutic method. Scholars within this vast school of interpretation attempted to understand biblical texts within the context of their own culture and time period. If faith in God was to mean anything, it needed to be based on verifiable evidence that could be corroborated. Finding its origins in the Protestant Reformation-era writings of Desiderius Erasmus, historical-criticism developed over the coming centuries into a complex and highly technical interpretive approach, including the use of tools such as form and source criticism, as well as an ongoing critique of established dogmatic traditions. By the 19th century, historical-criticism had come to consider its methods liberated from the tendency to find contemporary meaning and relevance from ancient texts that had marked more devotional approaches to Scripture. Instead, it found its task focussed solely on ‘critical collection and chronological ordering of the source material.’ (9) Continuing on into the 20th century, the principles of historical-criticism found a particularly notable expression in the work of German Church historian Adolf Harnack. Harnack’s magnum opus The History of Dogma traced the influence of Hellenism on the shaping of early Christian doctrine, and paints a picture of early Christianity rooted within a specific set of cultural norms and practices. Because of its dependency on the thought-world of its time, Harnack concluded that Christianity must first be understood as a historical phenomenon rather than a revealed religion whose message was intended to be relevant for future eras. The long-term significance of the Christian religion, argued Harnack, lies in the realm of its moral teaching. The truly transcendent and miraculous element of its dogma could no-longer be believed by individuals living in an age of genuine scientific inquiry. And so Harnack could write that ‘the earth in its course stood still; that a she-ass spoke; that a storm was quieted by a word, we do not believe, and shall never believe again.’ (10)          

For Kähler, however, the use of historical-criticism (also known as higher criticism) as a meta-principle threatened to confine the understanding of Christ to the academic elite, or at the very least those who had knowledge in the application of higher-critical methods. (11) Not every reader of the Bible will have the education necessary to utilise the tools of higher criticism in their own interpretation of sacred texts, and so this hermeneutic principle will inevitably leave the majority of Christians confused as to the reliability of their faith. In short, Kähler felt that if Christianity had anything to say at all, it must be able to be spoken to ordinary people in language that they could understand, and in a way that painted a clear picture of who Jesus was. Higher criticism could not do this, as it had made itself subservient to the ideology of the scientific method. A new approach was needed, and so existential hermeneutics emerged as an alternative.  

UnknownIn relation to its methodology, the existential approach can be thought of as placing humanity and the centre of the interpretive task. Whereas higher-criticism was guided by the values of scientific empiricism, existential hermeneutics attempted to interpret texts based on how they might respond to the concerns of the human condition. The aim was to draw out the real and ongoing meaning ‘behind’ a text, so that it can continue to speak to lived experience. Instead of being interpreted as an end in itself, the biblical text could be considered a linguistic representation of wider experiential truths. Within the existential vernacular, this concept is referred to as the ‘event of language.’ Of the many and varied theologians in this field, Rudolf Bultmann remains one of the most influential in terms of his lasting impact on biblical interpretation. It is important to note here that an existential approach to hermeneutics did not negate the interpretive methods of higher criticism, and in Bultmann’s case he extensively applied the principles of form criticism to the biblical text- most notably within a commentary John’s Gospel. (12) What took precedence, however, is an overriding concern for how the narrative of the New Testament impacted life in the here and now. In contrast to the pursuit of historical fact as a sort of ‘proof’ for the claims of Christian dogma, Bultmann suggested that faith in Christ required an act of the will, which was to be considered a gift from God. (13) In this sense, the human subject is placed in the centre of the interpretive method as a matter of ‘ultimate concern.’ On the topic of humanities centrality within the theological task, Paul Tillich- another major 20th theologian with an existential focus- wrote that ‘faith as ultimate concern is an act of the total personality. It is the most centred act of the human mind…it participates in the dynamics of personal life.’ (14)     

Decades prior to the work of Kähler, Bultmann and Tillich, Soren Kierkegaard had been authoring important existential religious texts in his native Copenhagen. Largely self-published using funds from his deceased Father’s inheritance, Kierkegaard’s works are widely considered to be the embodiment of existential thought, and have earned him the    title of the ‘father of the existentialism.’ The eccentric Dane’s life and philosophy represents a preoccupation not just with the human subject as phenomena, but with the task of the single person becoming a true individual. For Kierkegaard, the true individual was someone who had been able to liberate themselves from the illusions and distractions that he understood as part and parcel of life in 19th century Copenhagen. Individuality was not a state we are born into, but rather a process and challenge that must be actively engaged in throughout the course of life. The ultimate goal of this journey was to arrive at an understanding of who one is in relation to the eternal God. On this point Kierkegaard famously wrote: ‘what I really need is to get clear about about what I must do, not what I must know, insofar as knowledge must precede every act. What matters is to find a purpose, to see what it is that God wills I should do; the crucial thing is to find a truth which is truth for me, to find the idea for which I am willing to live and die.’ (15)      

Within the existential tendency of interpreting texts anthropocentrically (a tradition he helped pioneer), Kierkegaard developed some important techniques that he used in order to draw out the meaning of religious texts for his own time. In the following section, I will draw on Fear and Trembling and Either/Or as examples of Kierkegaard’s approach to theological hermeneutics. Before launching into this discussion, however, it needs to be mentioned that one of the driving forces behind Kierkegaard’s approach to hermeneutics was a desire to repudiate the towering influence of German philosopher Georg Friedrich Hegel over the European intellectual scene.  Despite clear and ongoing traces of Hegelian categories within his own thinking, Kierkegaard nevertheless felt that Hegel’s comprehensive philosophical systems placed limitations on the need for subjective individual freedom, which is of course the major premise for existential thought. (16) With this context in mind, I now turn to Kierkegaard’s written works.       

Kierkegaard’s Applied Existential Hermeneutics

Fear and Trembling:

1843’s Fear and Trembling is widely considered to be a classic of Christian literature. Its influence is vast, yet it is rarely considered as a direct example of Kierkegaard’s hermeneutical concerns. Instead, Fear and Trembling is often understood merely as a way of rationalising a particularly notorious and provocative text in Old Testament literature. This is a pity, as Fear and Trembling offers readers a clear glimpse into the interpretive frameworks that Kierkegaard uses to understand Biblical narratives. The work is a sustained treatment of God’s command to Abraham that he should sacrifice his son Isaac (Gen. 22:1-2). Using the pseudonym of Johannes de Silentio, Kierkegaard embarks on a series of reflections that seek to address the various existential themes raised by this problematic and deeply offensive text. The work is broken down into three sections, with each addressing a particular aspect (Kierkegaard calls these ‘problema’) of the biblical text. Section one relates to the teleological elements of the narrative, with particular emphasis placed on how ethical awareness may be suspended in response to the command of God over one’s life. Section two relates to the individual response to God; is the command of God binding on one’s life? Might Abraham have refused God’s order on ethical grounds? The final section considers Abraham’s retreat into himself; was he justified in concealing the command of God from both Sarah and Eliezer and indeed Isaac himself?

The structure of the work betrays a strong focus on the moral dimension of Abraham’s decision to follow God’s order, and this is an entirely justified reading of this text. The question of the right moral response to God permeates every page, along with the question of what kind of God would command such a heinous act as a sign of faithfulness. Despite our natural instinct to condemn Abraham’s willingness to murder his own son, Kierkegaard encourages readers to consider a deeper reality beyond the confines of literal interpretation, and suggests that ‘faith begins where thinking leaves off.’ (17) Although not explicitly outlined in this text, Kierkegaard’s concept of the qualitative ‘leap’ is implied in his interpretation of Abraham’s plight. In this lies one of the major elements of Kierkegaard’s hermeneutics. Extracting meaning from biblical narratives requires something more than human reason and the tools of exegesis. In fact, the conceit of reason can function as a major barrier when it comes to grasping not just the meaning of the text but how we are called to act on it. A purely intellectual interpretation of Abraham’s dilemma is insufficient and likely to fall into the rationalisation trap of either neutralising the moral quandary or elevating it to a place of undue centrality that overshadows the texts deeper meaning. As Kierkegaard writes:

‘We do not want to know anything about the anxiety, the distress, the paradox. We carry on an aesthetic flirtation with the result. It arrives just as unexpectedly but also just as effortlessly as a prize in the lottery, and when we have heard the result, we have built ourselves up.’ (18)

Kierkegaard’s point here is that the rational, self-orientated mind wants to interpret texts based on their suitability for the zeitgeist, rather than their eternal significance. Instead of allowing ourselves to be challenged by the ‘infinite qualitative difference,’ (19) we expect the divine to fit in with our own systems of understanding. Another way of explaining this might be to say that rational hermeneutics (i.e. historical-critical approaches) attempt to find meaning within the confines of the text, whereas Kierkegaard’s existential approach uses the text to locate a deeper, timeless meaning. Yet although ultimate meaning may lie beyond the text, it is also partially revealed in it. Interpreting Genesis 22:1-2 without grasping its infinite, eternal dimension, however, will result in little more than an account of attempted murder. (20) With the ‘eternal’ in mind, the narrative can be interpreted on a deeper level.   

535132-wikimediaThe question naturally arises as to how one is specifically able to grasp the deeper level of a text. For Kierkegaard, the most important element in the interpretative task is the attempt to imagine the feelings and passions at play in the heart of a given text. In this sense there are strong echoes of contemporaneous theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher’s emphasis on capturing ‘feeling’ as a goal of hermeneutics. In his significant work The Christian Faith, Schleiermacher famously wrote that the essence of religion consists in the feeling of absolute dependence. (21) For Schleiermacher, ‘feeling’ is not a general descriptor that refers to all possible emotional responses (i.e. fear, longing, joy, guilt etc.), but is to be interpreted as representing an ever-present awareness that the creature is not the creator. A more encouraging way of stating this is to say that despite humanity’s qualitative difference to God, the revelation of the divine through scripture provides the means necessary to bridge the gap between between the two worlds. God has made himself known to humanity. Our task is to individually respond. What makes Kierkegaard’s hermeneutic approach so distinctive is the coupling of ‘feeling’ with an equal emphasis on action. In this sense he moves beyond Schleiermacher and into a theology of praxis. For Kierkegaard, the Abraham and Isaac narrative tells us something important about how we must live in relation to God, and it is not in anyway a comfortable message. He writes that ‘if anyone on the verge of action should judge himself according to the outcome, he would never begin.’ (22) Hermeneutics, therefore, is helpful up to a point, after which it becomes harmful to pursue the task of interpretation. In a marketplace of ideas, what’s needed is a commitment to act in response to God, even if one is called to sacrifice all that is most dear.

As we know, the story has a happy ending; God relents and Isaac is spared. Kierkegaard, however, rarely allows us the luxury of neat endings. It is just as likely that God, in his incomprehensible and terrible power, might have gone through with the act. Abraham could not have known. For this reason, Kierkegaard sees much to admire in Abraham. He is to be praised for his consciousness of the eternal, and of his faithfulness in placing the command of God above the temptations of reason and worldly expectation. Abraham embraced the paradox that is at the heart of faith. Kierkegaard said this best when he wrote:

Abraham was greater than all, great by reason of his power whose strength is impotence, great by reason of his wisdom whose secret is foolishness, great by reason of his hope whose form is madness, great by reason of the love which is hatred of oneself.’ (23)         


Either/Or was the first published work of Kierkegaard, and remains one of his most popular and complex texts. Published in two volumes (hereafter referenced as EO1 and EO2), the work has strong religious overtones but is not primarily concerned with biblical interpretation. Instead, Kierkegaard maps out a kind of psychological journey through life, in which an individual exist in two stages: the aesthetic and the ethical. A third stage- the religious- is subtly implied as an ideal but never clearly described within EO, although Kierkegaard developed this theme more fully in Stages on Life’s Way. (24) Although not strictly an exercise in hermeneutics, I will argue that the key themes in EO provide an overall framework in which Kierkegaard interpreted human existence, and is therefore essential in his understanding of what true Christianity is. The second point to be made here is that in terms of certain hermeneutical tools, Kierkegaard was an innovator whose unconventional (at that time) approaches to questions of meaning had little historical precedent.

EO1 is a series of aphorisms, stories, reflections and diary entries related to different aspects of aesthetic existence. Topics discussed are varied, and include music, art and drama. One of the most popular and notorious sections of EO1 is The Diary of a Seducer. This section features pseudonymous authorship and indirect communication as a certain ‘Johannes the Seducer’ contemplates the love and affections of a fictional girl named Cordelia. On the surface of things, the diary is indeed about the act of seduction, and Johannes spares no effort in cultivating a variety of techniques for this purpose. In reality, Kierkegaard is describing a trait of the human condition that deeply impacted how he interpreted the abuses of Christianity under the banner of ‘Christendom.’.

Those who delve into these diaries expecting them to culminate in the blissful union of Johannes and Cordelia will be sorely disappointed. After playing with her heart to such a degree that she longs for marriage, the commitment-averse Johannes sets about crafting disingenuous ways of ensuring the termination of their relationship. The idea is that he can create a scenario in which Cordelia grows to hate him, thus avoiding the necessity for a confrontation. (25) Using the language of love, seduction and even tragedy, Kierkegaard is ultimately painting readers a picture of the futility of a life spent in pursuance of novelty. For Kierkegaard, we are all born into a state of aesthetic longing, which is really an obsession with things being ‘interesting.’ However, pursuing the ‘interesting’ as the primary meaning of life leads to despair, because we can never be content with what we find. The relentless pursuit of more pleasure is accompanied by a deep sense of emptiness that we try to suppress. Thus, Kierkegaard writes that the moments of joy we experience in life are always accompanied by death. (26) It is worth noting here that Kierkegaard’s frequent condemnation of the national Danish Church often referenced his own offense at the Church’s endorsement of pleasure, materialism and earthly power. (27) Kierkegaard would go on to spend the later years of his life dedicated to challenging the status quo of national Christianity within Denmark, and would often refer back to the ideas in his earlier works as fuel for his polemic.

In contrast to the indulgences of EO1, the content of EO2 is a defense of the ethical life as described by the fictitious Judge Wilhelm. The idea here is that those who have become disillusioned with the empty pursuit of novelty naturally seek deeper meaning and purpose. A dedication to the ethical life (in contrast to a mere life of ‘duty’) is to be considered a positive development beyond the aesthetic, in that to be ethical requires a degree of self-reflection and (most importantly) action. (28) For the stern Wilhelm, a necessary step in commiting to a life of practical ethics is to set about limiting one’s choices and deciding a clear path in which to travel. (29) The aesthete is lost in a sea of endless choice and unlimited potentialities, which prevent action and lead to discontent. The ethical person, through their commitment to duty and moral conduct, will contribute to the betterment of society through civic participation and will also avoid the spiritual abyss that accompanies the endless search for novelty. Becoming an ethical person is a step in the right direction toward becoming both a holistic individual and a true Christian, and the ethical stage is intended to be a necessary phase along the journey of life. However, the more difficult task is to progress from the ethical to the religious, as the purely ethical life is still subject to limitations and contradictions. In his thorough study of Kierkegaard’s understanding of ethics, Anthony Rudd describes the ultimate point of the ethical phase as being teleological in nature. That is, ethics aims to bring about a deeper awareness of God, for it is only through God that concepts such as the ‘good life,’ compassion, empathy and justice can be truly understood. (30) To be ethical for its own sake may be a noble pursuit, but if it lacks the element of transcendence that comes from an awareness of God then it is ultimately empty.        

Kierkegaard’s aesthetic and ethical stages of life present an interesting lens through which we may view his approach to hermeneutics. Consider the aesthetic stage having its hermeneutic parallel in the historical-critical approach. Constantly seeking new evidence and new theories, these approaches to interpretation may ensure we know more about the biblical text, but they are powerless to tell us how to live. In a sense, it hovers around the surface of things, without penetrating deeper into what ultimately matters. Conversely, the ethical approach looks to texts to provide answers for how we might live a good and moral life. For Kierkegaard, the limitations of the purely ethical are that it does not necessarily speak to the deeper human need, which can only be met through relationship with the creator God. Any person undertaking theological hermeneutics, therefore, will be living in one of the three modes of existence: the aesthetic, the ethical or the religious, with the religious being the most rare. The interpretation of meaning will inevitably be coloured by the assumptions of such stages, even if they only operate at a subconscious level. The aesthete will value the form and literary merits of a text, for example. They are likely to study a religious text with an eye to analyse its contribution to the world of literature rather than a signpost toward the eternal. In contrast, the ethically oriented will mine the text for evidence to support a given moral agenda. For the ethical interpreter, texts that contradict or ignore a preferred ethical or moral vision are seen as irrelevant, in so far as they are not practical.

Pseudonyms and Indirect Communication

It remains for us to survey the two key contributions Kierkegaard made to hermeneutics in terms of innovation. Although each work within the Kierkegaardian corpus explores many different theological and existential themes, the literary devices of pseudonymous authorship and indirect communication frequently recur as preferred methods through which Kierkegaard imparted his message.

We turn first to Kierkegaard’s pseudonymous authorship. The use of fictitious names as authors of his works is perhaps Kierkegaard’s most distinctive characteristic, at least in terms of a technical analysis of his style. The list of ‘authors’ is extensive, as both Fear and Trembling and Either/Or attest. Yet the use of these names was not an attempt at mere literary flair; the pursuit of novelty for its own sake was diametrically opposite to all Kierkegaard stood for. Rather, through the development of fictitious characters, Kierkegaard was able to step-outside his own mind and imagine perspectives and interpretations from alternate points of view. This is a necessary element in a distinctly Christian hermeneutics, as the Christian individual exists within a given culture (s), and as a result will always encounter a diversity of opinion. It is not enough to cling to historical dogma with a clenched fist in the face of an ever-changing world. The Christian must reflect on and consider the wider world, and the pseudonymous authors are often used to explore issues from a variety of religious, philosophical and ethical standpoints.  (31) By using pseudonyms, Kierkegaard also liberated himself from the accusation that what he was writing was in fact a personal endorsement. By ‘hiding’ behind the text in this way, Kierkegaard was free to explore a truly eclectic array of themes, and in so doing push his curiosity to its limits. Very few topics were taboo for Kierkegaard, but in order to achieve this sense of literary liberty it was necessary to create a facade in order to pursue truth. Writing in the Point of View for My Work as an Author, Kierkegaard wrote that instruction began when a teacher put themselves in the place of the learner, and in so doing the teacher begins to see things through the eyes of another. (32) In a sense, this is what Kierkegaard was doing with pseudonymous authorship. In this sweeping task of active listening through the written word, Kierkegaard’s underlying purpose was to survey the world and arrive at a deeper sense of the truth. This aspect of Kierkegaard’s thought can be seen in the work of later theologians such as Paul Tillich, who took the role of culture seriously as a necessary dialogue partner with theology. In fact, Tillich’s own reflections on Kierkegaard see him as pursuing truth through disinterest. (33) Through the use of pseudonyms, Kierkegaard was also able to free himself from his own agenda- at least in theory. 

Complimenting the pseudonymous authorship was Kierkegaard’s method of ‘indirect communication.’ To put it as succinctly as possible, ‘indirect communication’ is for Kierkegaard the attempt to communicate a message through subtle and implied means, rather than through overt proclamation. To understand why Kierkegaard used this method, it is important to understand to his view of discipleship. Kierkegaard’s Christology emphasised the need for individuals to make a decision in relation to Christ’s call to follow him. Indirect communication, therefore, was a tool used in order to encourage the reader to reflect on their own position, and to hopefully come to a place of commitment to or rejection of Christ. J. Kellenberger puts it in broader terms when he writes of indirect communication as taking place within the realm of subjective reflection, with the aim of securing personal appropriation of a given text or idea. (34) As such, Kierkegaard’s hermeneutics of indirect communication can be considered as a way of encouraging active participation in the world behind the text. This technique is at times confronting and almost always disorientating. This is an intentional strategy of Kierkegaard’s, as he acknowledges in Training in Christianity:

‘Another example (of indirect communication) is, to bring defence and attack in such a unity that none cannot say directly whether one is attacking or defending, so that both the most zealous partisans of the cause and its bitterest enemies can regard one as an ally- and with this to be nobody, and absentee, an objective something, not a personal man.’ (35)

Meaning is therefore elusive, able to be grasped only through a process of reckoning with the text for oneself. Indirect communication is both similar and dissimilar to the postmodern tendencies of later philosophers such as Jacques Derrida, who emphasised a subjective responsibility when creating meaning. Of course, Kierkegaard would have dismissed the claim of postmodernity that there can be no overarching metanarrative through which life should be lived, but he certainly pre-empted the postmodern idea that the individual had a creative role to play in acquiring meaning. The key difference for Kierkegaard was that the meaning to be discovered fond its origins the crucified and risen Christ.  


Kierkegaard’s legacy continues to be felt throughout the worlds of theology, philosophy and literature. Kierkegaardian scholarship itself forms an entire academic industry, with the eccentric Dane’s vast corpus being the subject of ongoing criticism and praise. In spite of this, Kierkegaard’s contribution to theological hermeneutics has traditionally been less understood, although the tide appears to be turning in this respect. When one becomes acquainted with the specifics of these hermeneutical approaches, however, it becomes clear that Kierkegaard’s writing had a missional emphasis. There is a calculated strategy operating behind the words themselves, and this strategy is designed to speak to individuals, and to cause them to reflect on their own relationship with God and the world. As noted in my introduction, Kierkegaard’s entire life as a writer was dedicated to the task of expounding the heart of genuine Christianity for the world of his own time- one marked by blandness, trivia and an insipid form of cultural ‘christian’ community. Yet Kierkegaard is anything but an historical curiosity. In our own technological age, the temptation to outsource our thinking to the collective remains an ongoing temptation. We are united in a globally connected community, but in the process we have lost the ability to stand alone and think for ourselves. The phantom menace of ‘public opinion’ has paralysed us into inaction. Our self-identity too often comes from our associations with communities and institutions, not from our standing before God. Kierkegaard’s hermeneutics, therefore, continues to challenge us to boldly claim our personal identity in response to the suffering and risen Christ.



  1. Soren Kierkegaard. The Point of View for My Work as an Author: A Report to History. Trans. Walter Lowrie (New York: Harper and Row, 1962), 5-6.
  2. For a review of Kierkegaard’s relationship to literary genres see: George Pattison, “Kierkegaard and Genre,” Poetics Today 28:3 (2007): 475-97
  3. See: Rebecca Skaggs, “Kierkegaard’s Hermeneutics,” The Heythrop Journal, Vol. 55/5 (2014): 817.
  4. Kierkegaard’s first and most famous work, Either/Or, is a pseudonymous reflection on two stages of life: the aesthetic and the ethical. Throughout, Kierkegaard refrains from using his pseudonymous characters to advocate for one position or another, but does subtly hint at a third category: the religious. See: Soren Kierkegaard. Either/Or: A Fragment of Life. Trans. Alastair Hannay (London: Penguin, 1992)
  5. See: Mark C. Taylor, “Retracings,” in The Craft of Religious Studies. Ed. Jon. R. Stone (London: MacMillan, 1998), 258-76.
  6. See: Soren Kierkegaard. Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments. Eds. Howard V. Hong and Edna Hong (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992), 335.  
  7. See the Introduction to Jolita Pons. Stealing a Gift: Kierkegaard’s Pseudonyms and the Bible (New York: Fordham University Press, 2004)
  8. ‘The so-called historical Jesus and the biblical Christ.’ (Munich: Chr. Kaiser, 1956)
  9. See the introduction to: Walter Burkert. Greek Religion: Archaic and Classical. Trans. John Raffan (Harvard: Harvard University Press, 1987)
  10. See: Adolf Harnack. Das Wessen des Christentums (Leipzig: J.C. Hinrics, 1902), 18.
  11. See: Hugh Anderson, “Existential Hermeneutics: Features of the New Quest,” in Interpretation 16:2 (1962): 131-55.
  12. Rudolf Bultmann. The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2014)
  13. See: Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmeyer & Roland E. Murphy, eds., The New Jerome Biblical Commentary (London: Pearson, 1989), 1118.
  14. See: Paul Tillich. Dynamics of Faith (New York: Harper & Row, 1957), 5.
  15. As quoted in John D. Caputo. How to Read Kierkegaard (London: Granta, 2007), 13.
  16. See Jon Stewart’s excellent treatment of this topic in Kierkegaard’s Relations to Hegel Reconsidered (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003)
  17. See: Soren Kierkegaard. Fear and Trembling. Eds. Stephen Evans & Sylvia Walsh (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 46.
  18. Ibid, 56.
  19. See: Soren Kierkegaard. Journals and Notebooks Vol. 4. Eds. Niels Jorgen et. al. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011), 252.  
  20. Fear and Trembling, 24.
  21. For a development of this theme, see the introductory notes to: Friedrich Schleiermacher. The Christian Faith. Eds. H.R. Mackintosh & J.S. Stewart (London: T&T Clark, 1999), 3-93.
  22. Fear and Trembling, 55.
  23. Ibid, 14.
  24. Soren Kierkegaard. Stages on Life’s Way. Eds Howard V. Hong & Edna H. Hong (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988)
  25. See: Soren Kierkegaard. Either/Or. Eds. Howard V. Hong & Edna H. Hong (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987), 351.
  26. Ibid, 20.
  27. See: Soren Kierkegaard. Journals and Notebooks: Vol. 4 NB-NB5. Eds. Niels Jørgen Cappelørn et al. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011), 212.
  28. Either/Or II, 254-55.
  29. Either/Or II, 163-4.
  30. See: Anthony Rudd. Kierkegaard and the Limits of the Ethical (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), 59.
  31. For an in-depth analysis of Kierkegaard’s pseudonymous authors, see: Katalin Nun & John Stewart (eds). Kierkegaard’s Pseudonyms: Volume 17 (Ashgate: Farnham & Burlington, 2015)
  32. Point of View, 49. Contemporary theologian Miroslav Volf has developed this theme into his own concept of ‘double vision,’ in which the individual learns to understand themselves through the perspective of another. See: Miroslav Volf. Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness and Reconciliation (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996), 250.  
  33. See: Paul Tillich. Theology of Culture. Ed. Robert C. Kimball (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1959), 89.
  34. See: J. Kellenberger, “Kierkegaard, Indirect Communication, and Religious Truth,” International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, Vol.16/2 (1984): 153.
  35. See: Soren Kierkegaard. Training in Christianity. Trans. Walter Lowrie (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1932 3rd Edition), 132-33.  










About Ryan Buesnel

Welcome to my page! I am a writer and musician from Melbourne who enjoys reading philosophy, theology and military history. I am a Ph.D. Candidate through Charles Sturt University, with my thesis exploring the activities of the German State Church during the Third Reich-era.
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