Forming HumanityRedeeming the German Bildung Tradition

Forming HumanityRedeeming the German Bildung Tradition

Jennifer A. Herdt

Print publication date: 2020

ISBN: 9780226618487

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


This book offers a theological re-narration and interrogation of the late 18th-/early 19th-century German Bildung tradition, arguing that it yields vital resources for contemporary debates over humanism. Uncovering the roots of this tradition in Rhineland mysticism, Pietism, and earlier Christian humanisms, it articulates how Bildung ceased to mean passive formation or reformation at the hands of divine formative agency, and came to refer instead to active and autonomous human self-realization. At the same time, it argues that standard secularization narratives fail to account for the ways in which Bildung was conceived as an individual and collective task of ethical and political formation. Thinkers such as Herder, Humboldt, Goethe, Schiller and Hegel creatively transformed inherited theological understandings of humankind as created in the image of God and called to play a special role in the reditus of creation to God. With Karl Barth as critical theological interlocutor, the book exposes the complicity of Bildung tradition in the evils of bourgeois indifference, racism, colonial empire, and fascism, while arguing that it demands not repudiation but critical reappropriation, in service of a form of dialogical humanism.