- Theology and the University in Nineteenth-Century Germany by Zachary Purvis
When German universities such as the University of Halle, Prussia's most notable academic institution and home to Friedrich Schleiermacher, were taken over by French troops during the Napoleonic Wars, doubt was cast on the very survival of German academia, in particular theology's status as Wissenschaft. Zachary Purvis links the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire at the hands of Napoleon Bonaparte with this challenge to the very nature of the university itself, the organization of knowledge, and the unity of theological study.
Schleiermacher and many of his contemporaries throughout Europe, particularly in Germany, voiced concern over theology's post-Enlightenment, declining prominence within the university. Whereas theology had once been thought of as the "queen of sciences" (2), its academic prestige was now diminished and its place within the university called into question. In response was born the German scholarly tradition collectively referred to as the theological encyclopedia (theologische Enzyklopädie).
These theologische Enzyklopädien, systematic attempts to define the scope of theology, enhanced the subject's academic respectability. University programs were developed to schematize theological fields and subfields of study. The consequence of this systematization was deeper theological, philosophical, and doctrinal divides, which in turn resulted in the establishment of various ecclesiastical schools. However, although helpful in many aspects, the creation of these theological encyclopedias did not garner universal praise from German theologians, as noted by leading German theologian Georg Heinrici. Heinrici concluded that these encyclopedias changed the manner in which clergy were trained, noting that they fundamentally failed "to manufacture piety," and instead served only "to research what Christianity is and how [it] … operates" (3). In contrast to such pietistic German texts like the famous Heidelberg Catechism, these encyclopedias focused on recreating Christianity as a pseudoscientific academic field and restoring its previous academic reputation. [End Page 613]
Throughout this book, Purvis thoroughly examines the emergence and development of these theological encyclopedias within Protestant academic theology in nineteenth-century German universities. Purvis claims that the theological encyclopedic model lies at the intersection of religious reflection and intellectual and academic departmental requirements within German academic institutions. The focus of Purvis's study is set on the development of theology as a science within nineteenth-century German universities, rather than an analysis of universities and faculties as related to matters of the German state. Instead, Purvis explores the academic adoption of theology and the ways in which it underwent disciplinary cloistering, professionalization, academic fragmentation, and Verwissenschaftlichung in German academia. Consequently, Purvis contends that Schleiermacher, for example, would never have written his Kurze Darstellung des theologischen Studiums (1811), had he not accepted an academic position at the University of Berlin. It was the scientization of theology that allowed such writings to be produced.
Written in an engaging and clear manner, this book examines classic early modern rationales for the wissenschaftlich character of university theology, especially its proper methods and parameters, and the various ways in which German Protestant theologians organized its diverse subfields into a unified whole. Purvis leaves little intellectual ground unplowed, and includes a number of excellent primary sources such as academic texts, faculty manuals, manuscripts, lecture notes, correspondence, and records of publishing houses. The book thus provides an excellent overview for how theology developed as a Wissenschaft in nineteenth-century German Protestant universities.
According to Purvis, the work of theological encyclopedia and Germany's academic idealist superstructure of theology as Wissenschaft of Schleiermacher's day ultimately sank under the weight of multiple cultural, academic, and intellectual forces, which Purvis discusses at length in his conclusion. Some of these were the academic concepts of "neutrality" and the "absence of presuppositions" (Voraussetzungslosigkeit) in the modern German university, which challenged nearly all ecclesiastical and confessional ties. Additionally, the rise of German intellectualism led to an unprecedented expansion and diversification of knowledge and academic inquiry into endless niche studies and academic subfields, each moving further away from a common root of scientific knowledge, according to Heinrich von Sybel (224). Thus...