Ever since the English-speaking world discovered the work of Søren Kierkegaard in the middle part of the last century, he has been an indispensable part of the Western philosophical and theological traditions. He is seen, variously, as a precursor to movements as diverse as existentialism, poststructuralism, evangelicalism, and neo-orthodoxy. Few people make it through higher education without encountering books like Fear and Trembling and the Concluding Unscientific Postscript, but while most of us have some familiarity with the basic contours of Kierkegaard’s thought, it can be very difficult to fill in the details. Kierkegaard, like his near-contemporary, Nietzsche, was not a systematic thinker in the manner that analytic philosophy expects, and it’s hard to get your mind around his arguments without reading many of his books many times over. To make it even harder, most of Kierkegaard’s most popular books appeared under a series of strange pseudonyms, and scholars have argued amongst themselves whether we can take them as expressions of Kierkegaard’s own thoughts, or whether we should read them as something more akin to fiction. All this means that Kierkegaard is hard to understand and easy to caricature.
Fortunately, our guest today on Christian Humanist Profiles is Merold Westphal, who has been thinking and writing about Kierkegaard for decades. He is the author of three previous studies of Kierkegaard: 1987’s Kierkegaard’s Critique of Reason and Society; 1996’s Becoming a Self: A Reading of Kierkegaard’s Concluding Unscientific Postscript; and 1999’s Levinas and Kierkegaard in Dialogue—as well as many other books on Hegel, postmodernism, existentialism, hermeneutics, and atheism. His latest book is Kierkegaard’s Concept of Faith, part of Eerdmans’s new series on Kierkegaard as a Christian thinker.