Schleiermacher

The Psychology of Christian Faith and Life

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Terrence N. Tice
Mapping the Tradition
  • Lanham, MD: 
    Lexington Books
    , March
     2018.
     120 pages.
     $85.00.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9781978700123.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

Few theologians present a more daunting challenge to students new to his thought than Friedrich Schleiermacher. His writing is dense, his terms technical, his views unusual and contested. Therefore, it is hard to think of a better candidate for a deep but accessible introduction—exactly the kind of book Terrence Tice aims to give us with Schleiermacher: The Psychology of Christian Faith and Life. Likewise, few thinkers are as qualified to provide an easy-reading, yet plausibly accurate and complete version of Schleiermacher’s thought. Tice, whose name is synonymous with Schleiermacher scholarship, is an accomplished author and translator. His mastery of Schleiermacher’s works, both published and unpublished, is widely recognized. In this book Tice puts this mastery to broad use, discussing The Christian Faith, the Speeches, Schleiermacher’s reception and influence, and more.

The book begins by introducing Tice’s approach with a series of intermittent dialogues on the “inner life,” and he provides some basic insights into the structure of Schleiermacher’s The Christian Faith as a way of orienting us to Schleiermacher’s thought. The writing is clear, and the syntax easy: exactly the sort of writing I would want to assign to new students of Schleiermacher. And I found myself largely sympathetic with Tice’s picture of Schleiermacher on the whole. Yet, at the same time, peripheral discussions are sprinkled throughout (for instance, a brief discussion of the technical difference between “assumed” and “presupposed” in German); and the handful of dialogical interjections are a strong stylistic choice that, to me, were more distracting than helpful, although they do make the book feel friendly and inviting.

Chapter 2 is the headlining chapter. Here Tice presents a lovely translation of Schleiermacher’s 1820 Christmas Sermon which, Tice argues (plausibly to my view) is a presentation of the whole of Schleiermacher’s theology in miniature. This was the best chapter in the book. Tice’s skill in translation and his feel for Schleiermacher shine. The sermon itself is a powerful but concise piece which, in the span of fifteen translated pages, gathers together most of the major teachings and themes of Schleiermacher’s theology. This blissful read was only briefly broken by more dialogue.

Beginning with chapter 3, the book feels different. The dialogues disappear altogether, and the reader is transported from Christmas celebration to literature review. Prior topics are largely left aside, and the remainder of the book has a less basic but also less exciting flavor. Some sections of chapter 3 are mostly lists. However, readers interested in a broad but surface-level history of the last two hundred years of Schleiermacher reception will find chapter 3 useful. 

Chapter 4 raises some interpretive themes around Schleiermacher’s Speeches to religion’s cultured despisers, as well as questions about “the religions” and ecumenical dialogue that connect to the Speeches. Once more, however, this chapter (and the following) doesn’t connect naturally to the Christmas sermon. Nor is it always introductory. Rather it inserts the reader, sometimes without adequate context, in conversations well underway in the secondary literature.

Chapter 5 concludes with another shift: this time from Schleiermacher on the psychology of the Christian life to Schleiermacher’s own psychology, informed by an analysis of Schleiermacher’s biography and written corpus. The theme of the “inner life” is brought full circle, but much of the last three chapters, unlike the first two, continue to have a slightly encyclopedic feel to them.

Overall, the book reads like a project with competing ends. Some decisions, like the adoption and then abandonment of the scripted dialogues, lent the impression that the author was of two minds about how best to proceed. But others, like the shift from grand insight to obligatory rehearsal of scholarly details, seemed like they might have been the product of editorial or series demands competing with the author’s vision. Whatever the cause, the effect is less than ideal. Readers interested in Schleiermacher’s account of the psychology of the Christian faith and life will not find the fulsome account they might reasonably expect given the subtitle. Readers looking for an accessible introduction to the whole of Schleiermacher’s thought will find little that is truly excellent beyond the sermon comprising chapter 2. For a more detailed account of Schleiermacher’s reception, historiography, and more, the reader is told to look to other published works—many by the author. While it is no doubt necessary to point interested parties in the direction of more in-depth literature, the fact that it is so necessary probably should have been a sign that such material needed to be presented differently, or left out altogether, in a book of this length. 

Speaking of which, Schleiermacher is short: a mere eighty-eight pages, in keeping with the series specification of books of one-hundred pages or less. But it shrinks further still if you subtract the twenty-five pages of endnotes which add up to more than one-quarter of the length of the whole book. The remaining sixty-three pages are divided over five chapters. The result is a book spread too thin. In contrast, the same short length divided over only three chapters, or with fewer notes, all themed around the central sermon, for instance, would have been better. Moreover, apart from issues of depth and focus, at its current price, the book’s de facto sixty-three page length puts it, even discounted, at well over a dollar a page and makes it an inaccessible introduction in a different, but no less important, sense. 

I hesitate to recommend this book. However, if the price came down substantially, I would recommend the book for chapter 2 alone. In it we see both Schleiermacher and Tice at their best. Indeed, we not only see, but feel, the intellectual vision and heartfelt piety that inspires both.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Daniel J. Pedersen is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Exeter.

Date of Review: 
August 7, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Terrence N. Tice is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the University of Michigan.

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