In my student ramblings of late I have come across a German philosopher with whom I had never been previously acquainted. This is not unusual (there are so many I doubt I shall ever stop) but considering I have just completed a
term long course in the Anthropology of Religion I was dismayed at my complete naivety
and unfamiliarity with his work, influence and place in the canon of this developed
anthropological topic.

I don’t know a lot about him. I have researched what I can and am currently on the lookout for a copy of “Das Wesen des Christenthums” [“The Essence of Christianity” (1841)]. I understand
his opposition to the Christian orthodoxy of the time led him to be a firm favourite
of Marx and Engels among others, and that he made up some portion of the Young
Hegelian literature of the time, studying under him but apparently never receiving
his (Hegel’s) seal of approval for his ideas.

What intrigues me most about the small element of his work with which I am aware, is the hierarchical view of the understanding of religion in either the “true or anthropological sense” or the “false or theological
sense”. He appears to make the argument for “theology as anthropology”, the
creation and recreation of God as never demonstrative of the supernatural but
quite the opposite, as an exemplar of the man himself, and therefore the remit
not of a theologian but an anthropologist and only an anthropologist. To me and
my naive-itude, the lack of synthesis in this approach is excitingly
inflammatory.

What do you know? Is this figure an established old-hat theorist that most dispense with at an early stage of ‘training’? I acknowledge I am in the midst of much more experienced and qualified individuals than I, and
I just wondered what you knew, what you thought and how irrelevant my inquires
into this 19th century atheist are...

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Replies to This Discussion

Kate, thank you for bringing up Feuerbach. I, too, am one of us who has only a glancing acquaintance with a theorist who might be important if only we knew more about him. I would be delighted to learn more.

Dear Kate,

 

I have really vague recollections from my undergraduate studies in philosophy but I will attempt a summary.

 

If Feuerbach starts off as an enthusiast follower of Hegel he then rejects the very core of his analysis. Hegel assumes that there is an Absolute and that the material word is its creation, a step in its path to self-knowledge. Feuerbach sees then Hegel as the last step in the history of Christianity (even though when young he believed in the incompatibility of Hegelian philosophy and Christianity), the construction of an absolute (absolutely powerful, omnipresent, perfect, etc.), be God or the Absolute, that creates the realm of matter which is then secondary and ultimately dependent.

Feuerbach turns Hegel and Christianity upside-down asserting that it is not an abstract absolute that creates humanity, but humanity that creates an abstract absolute ascribing to it all the qualities and characteristics considered as essential to humans as species (or "humanhood"). What is seen as being perfect in the human species is made absolute and ascribed to the absolute being, therefore God is not compassionate but it is because humans value compassion in themselves that God becomes compassionate.

After the production of such a being humans submit themselves to it, and therefore "religious alienation": humans are subdued to their own creation.

 

Now, I enjoyed my attempt of recollection but you are probably better off checking the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy ( http://plato.stanford.edu/ ).

 

I guess you could say that Feuerbach would look at the divinity to see what humans value or think about themselves, the divinity as a mirror of humanity self-understanding. And from here, is comparative religion become a fundamental tool for anthropology?

 

I hope this is helpful at all.

 


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