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Kierkegaard and the longing for God

Kierkegaard and the longing for God
Glen Graham


Department of Religious Studies, McMaster University, Hamilton, ON L8S 4L8, CANADA.


A large part of modern Western philosophy defines selfhood as the self s ability to master itself and psychological wellbeing as the actualization of self-integration. However, as this thesis argues, Kierkegaard s understanding of longing for God challenges this understanding human identity, especially as it is articulated by Kant and the German Idealists. Through an examination of Kierkegaard s Concluding Unscientific Postscript and his religious discourses, the thesis argues that Kierkegaard s theology of longing both undermines the modern psychology understanding of autonomous selfhood and preserves a qualified understanding of autonomy. The thesis argues that Kierkegaard s theology has much in common with Augustine s understanding of longing in The Confessions. For Kierkegaard, the longing for God is not just a heteronomous desire for self-annihilation in God. The longing in question is relational and intellectual; it is a response to God s illuminative self-revelation and self-communicative love. But as relational, the life lived in longing for God is not wholly autonomous either. In prayer the soul experiences its own neediness and imperfections as it begins to experience God s perfection. Broadly conceived, the thesis explores Kierkegaard s understanding of this neither . . . nor . . . , that is, his understanding of a religious life lived neither fully autonomously nor fully heteronomously. The thesis argues further that much contemporary scholarship cannot take Kierkegaard s relational understanding of the God-relationship seriously and therefore misinterprets his understanding of human identity.