Nichol (ed.), Schleiermacher and Feminism: Sources, Evaluations, and Responses

Iain G. Nichol (ed.), in Schleiermacher Studies and Translations (Vol. 12), Edwin Mellen Press, 1992. 127 pages.


Schleiermacher and Feminism consists of six essays by different authors who deal with a variety of feminist issues in relation to Schleiermacher. The introduction presents editor Iain G. Nicol’s intentions for the volume and provides brief summaries of the six authors’ essays. Nicol declares that one of the most important contemporary issues is “the quest of women to be women; their quest for civil and human rights” (i).In “Commentary on Schleiermacher’s Thoughts on Women, Love, and Marriage,” Robert F. Streetman states how noble women exercised a lasting influence on Schleiermacher’s life and his thought. Streetman, like most other authors in this book, analyzes Schleiermacher’s “Idea for a Rational Catechism for Noble Women” to define his understanding of the feminine. Streetman emphasizes “reverse sexism” as a critical characterization of Schleiermacher’s relation to women. According to Streetman, Schleiermacher employs the opposite direction characterized as feminine to counteract the imbalance of the Enlightenment rationalism in his time. Streetman hints to the “complexity of Schleiermacher’s understanding of the nature of the relationships between men and women” (i).

In “Schleiermacher – A Feminist? Or, How to Read Gender Inflected Theology,” Katherine M. Faull tries to answer the question of whether Schleiermacher can be judged as a feminist or not. Faull stresses that in order to answer such question, we have to analyze not only Schleiermacher’s “Catechism” but also his philosophical assumptions in his theological writing On Religion. She insists that Schleiermacher finds a combination of “transcendent meaning and sensual object” in the metaphor of the feminine (18). In Schleiermacher’s theological system, the feminine “is represented … as the source of religious consciousness…; however, never as its subject” (30). Faull concludes that, although Schleiermacher’s representation of religious consciousness is gender-inflected and the consciousness is mediated through the feminine, the subject is only the male and not the female. Therefore, women seem to be excluded from what is exclusive to men according to Schleiermacher’s view.

In “Moral Woman and Immoral Society: Schleiermacher on Female and Male,” Iain G. Nicol examines Schleiermacher’s understanding of the relationship between male and female and explores the implications in connection to Schleiermacher’s philosophical and theological ethics. According to Nicol, although it is true that the feminism of the period when Schleiermacher was involved with Romanticism is rooted in his understanding of the complementarity of man and women, we cannot find the same tendency in his later systematic works.

In “Schleiermacher’s 1800 ‘Versuch über die Schaamhaftigkeit’: A Contribution Toward a Truly Human Ethic,” Ruth Drucilla Richardson attempts to answer the question “Was Schleiermacher a Feminist?” by investigating his essay “Versuch über die Schaamhaftigkeit.” Richardson asserts that Schleiermacher’s understanding of Schaamhaftigkeit (shamefacedness, sense of shame; 50) is different from that of Rousseau, Kant, Campe, and Fichte. Schleiermacher rejects three common definitions of Schaamhaftigkeit: namely first, Schaamhaftigkeit as a negative virtue preoccupied with ridding the mind and heart of desirous thoughts (Rousseau, Kant, Campe, Fichte); second, Schaamhaftigkeit as the charm of women to manipulate men (Rousseau); third, Schaamhaftigkeit as a Geschlechtscharakter of women, opposite to men’s reason (Rouseau, Kant, Campe, Fichte) (82-83). Rousseau, Kant, Campe, and Fichte define the meaning of Schaamhaftigkeit as a female characteristic, while Schleiermacher does not see Schaamhaftigkeit as a gender-specific ontological quality. He argued that Schaamhaftigkeit can be understood only in the context of free sociality. Richardson concludes that, in Schleiermacher’s view, Schaamhaftigkeit is a human virtue “to be shared and practiced both by men and by women” (84).

In “Schleiermacher and the Construction of the Gendered Self,” Sheila Briggs argues that, according to Schleiermacher, gender construction has an intrinsic function. She suggests that in order to understand Schleiermacher’s ethical theme—namely, the mediation between individuality and universality—we must grasp his understanding of gender construction. According to Schleiermacher, it cannot easily be said that the private realm is reserved for the female and the public realm reserved for male even though we accept that men and women inhabit distinctive spheres (89). A strict dichotomy of spheres applies only to women, not to men. That is the reason why women are excluded from the public sphere. The distinction of the domestic place and the public place exists not only between men and women, but also exists in the male self because men inhabit the private realm as well as public realm (89). Briggs concludes by stating that Schleiermacher’s later works talk more about the moral agenda of the male self rather than the relationship between male and female.

In “Schleiermacher’s Feminist Impulses in the Context of his Later Work,” Patricia Guenter-Gleason also asks whether Schleiermacher is a feminist or not. She points out that Schleiermacher feels comfortable with women’s exclusion from public contexts such as the academy, government, business, and church leadership. She continues to argue that Schleiermacher’s understanding of the vocational obligations of the private and public spheres critically influenced his thought about the distinct natures of women and men. She declares that, although Schleiermacher’s “public realm may be influenced by feminist values, it would contain no women” (125). Guenter-Gleason concludes that, even though Schleiermacher’s feministic understanding of religion can be understood as a good source for feminists, his exclusion of women from the public realm should be noted with particularity.

All six authors of this book discuss Schleiermacher’s ideas and their relationship to feminism. When all of the authors’ analyses are combined, it can be said that Schleiermacher’s perspective on women was very distinctive from all of his theoretical predecessors. In “Catechism,” Schleiermacher shows his strategy of reverse sexism. Moreover, in On Religion, Schleiermacher not only employs feminine images such as womb, but also incorporates a concept of the feminine into the actual structure of his hermeneutic in explaining the most important component in his study of theology (24). Although he contributed much to the development of feminism, it is hard to ascertain with certainty that he was a feminist. The reason for hesitating to call him a feminist is, as Faull and Guenter-Gleason pointed out, because Schleiermacher’s view of religious consciousness is mediated through the feminine but the subject is only the male.

Given these difficulties, it is not as surprising that Brandt finds substantially greater influence from Schleiermacher on theological projects than on philosophy. In fact, the disparity may have more to do with Brandt’s own valuations than on Schleiermacher’s own. Brandt points out that “had Schleiermacher not been so preoccupied both with theology and practical concerns and had his work not appeared in so forbidding a form, he might very well have had a much greater influence here [on philosophy] than he actually exercised” (316). It is hard not to conclude that Brandt’s own high valuation of philosophy blurred his recognition of the value Schleiermacher placed on the theological project as it arose out of the problematic religious engagements of his youth. Brandt wishes to make the problems of religious and scientific knowledge central whereas Schleiermacher himself was interested in elaborating what he could accept as an authentic religious life.

The authors of this book attempted a well-balanced analysis of the life and thought of Schleiermacher. They did not commit the mistake of analyzing Schleiermacher’s theology and the relationship to feminism in a one-sided manner (like most other writing of this kind), but tried to analyze his theology very objectively. In this regard, this book provides not only an interesting discussion about feminists, but also a useful presentation of the fundamentals of Schleiermacher’s theology and ethics.

by Chanhong Kim
Boston University, 2009

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.