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The “Religion of Art” Rüdiger Bubner Introduction Hegel put forward a threefold theory of the Absolute that no longer has anything to do with the old theological speculations concerning the Trinity . The Absolute shows itself as art, religion, and philosophy, with no hierarchical order governing these standpoints; only an increase in transparency permits distinctions to be drawn between them. As a matter of fact, art had been viewed in association with philosophy since Plato. Moreover , it had been seen as philosophy’s rival. This path, which led right up to the Renaissance, was then turned in a more subjective direction by the modern concentration on art criticism. Kant’s aesthetics forms the high point of this development. The analysis of aesthetic judgments (Geschmacksurteile) systematically displaces the idea of beauty. It deals instead with the special reaction of a subject to aesthetic experience. Platonism, meanwhile, continued to exercise a subterranean effect in the eighteenth century from Shaftesbury to Hemsterhuis and at the very end of the century celebrated its resurrection. The precocious Schelling had already studied Plato before he was confronted with Fichte’s principle of subjectivity.1 In the “Earliest System-Programme of German Idealism ,” dated to the year 1796, we see a trio of friends from Tübingen with a significant future at the start of their journey. Together they pursue the aim of overcoming Kant’s critical restrictions on reason, and at the center of this endeavor stands an appeal to Plato’s idea of beauty.2 At about the same time, under the leadership of Friedrich Schlegel, the early Romantics discover the inspiration of Plato. Schleiermacher’s masterful translation of Plato’s dialogues into German represents the enduring result. And what about religion? To note just one subsidiary aspect of the intellectual development in the Theological Seminary at Tübingen, the hotheads, Schelling, Hegel, and Hölderlin, encounter there an educational establishment that tries to defend the old dogmatism of theology with modern means, namely, with concepts borrowed from Kant’s moral philosophy. In particular, the writings of the young Hegel attest to the 296 power of a conception of religion that sees in Christianity a superior religion of love waiting to be reawakened despite Christianity’s degeneration into a theoretical edifice and into practical coercion in the institutions of the church. The living content of religion is to be preserved for the future through philosophy’s engagement with theology. Overlooking the whole scene, we see philosophy, from which the post-Kantian generation as a whole expected subversive reform, working hand in hand with aesthetics and religion to release the modern culture of reflection from its self-certainty. On the one hand, the project of producing a definitively valid system makes use of the intuition of the beautiful to lead immediacy beyond immediacy.3 On the other hand, revealed religion acts as a stimulus to disclose the authentic “manifestation” of the Absolute to the spirit of the community of the faithful. Finally, philosophy attains the status of absolute knowing, which is more than just the eternal “longing for knowledge” insofar as spirit occupies itself with itself as the comprehensively developed content of knowledge. It is in this sense that Hegel united the triad of aesthetics, religion, and philosophy in his systematic outline, the Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences. This solution represents the result of Hegel’s efforts toward completing a closed system, at the beginning of which had stood the Phenomenology of Spirit. Between the two books lies a decade of growing maturity (Jena 1806–Heidelberg 1817). The vanishing point of the phenomenological development through the historical appearances of spirit is formed by “absolute knowing,” which finally emerges from art and religion . While Hegel’s whole system rests on the ground of absolute knowing that has been prepared by phenomenology, it is clear that the path of phenomenology itself indicates a quite distinctive treatment of the phenomena by the Concept—one that should not be confused with the encyclopedic presentation of all relevant content of knowledge in the system proper.4 Shortly before the end of the path of phenomenology there appears , under the heading “Religion of Art” (Kunstreligion), a distinctive version of aesthetics that Hegel never repeated. It is to this special treatment that I want to draw attention. Let us consider Kunstreligion more closely. Art’s Position in the Phenomenology The term “religion of art” appears in Hegel’s work only in the penultimate chapter of the Phenomenology of Spirit. As far as I...


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