n HTS : Theological Studies - Friedrich Schleiermacher’s Reden and the problem of religious plurality - research

Volume 75 Number 4
  • ISSN : 0259-9422
  • E-ISSN: 2072-8050



Modern knowledge of the world’s religions brings to light the problem of religious plurality, meaning the problem of why there is such great religious diversity, and which set of religious beliefs, if any, can be judged to be true. In 1799 and in the later editions, the young Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768–1834) offered a pioneering account of religion in his revolutionary work, widely known as the Reden, first rendered in English in 1893 with the title On Religion: Speeches to Its Cultured Despisers, which this article summarises and critically evaluates in relation to that problem. Guided by the work of Eric Sharpe on the history of the comparative study of religion, the article locates Schleiermacher in the context of the state of knowledge about the plurality of religions when he wrote the Reden, compared to our present knowledge. The evaluation takes as its primary critical criteria the requirements of the academic study of religions, not the theological interests relevant to Schleiermacher as a Christian thinker. The evaluation yields a mixed verdict, noting four significant strengths in Schleiermacher’s account of religion but also three important limitations, the main one arising, understandably, from his personal faith, but nonetheless a problem in the academic study of religions.

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