Saturday, June 20, 2009

Revelation via Feelings: My discovery of Schleiermacher

What is revelation? Does it exist or is it merely a pious fiction? John Shuck’s recent post on “Religion without Revelation” ( got me thinking about this, and, as you can read below, I wrote a comment on the post. In it, I wrote that feelings are our revelation, however ever unreliable they are.
In thinking about feelings and revelation, I was led back, via Google, to Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher (1768–1834), the father of modern liberal Christian thought. The Boston Collaborative Encyclopedia of Modern Western Theology has a helpful set of papers on Schleiermacher ( For example, John Tamilio III points out that “Schleiermacher begins by distinguishing the cognitive from the visceral: knowing God intellectually and experiencing God affectively. The latter is the foundation of Schleiermacher’s systematics. Religious experience is grounded in a feeling of absolute dependence on God. Absolute dependence is both the ‘primary datum of religion’ and the way in which we are ‘to be in relation to God.’ This is a precognitive experience.” Tamilio continues: “…for Schleiermacher, faith is not the experience of isolated individuals, but rather the lived experience of a faith community.” So, for Christians, revelation is most likely to come from the experience of worship. The acts of worship and the behaviors involved in worshipping produce the feelings that led to revelation.
In the same set of papers, Holly Reed writes, “Schleiermacher is accused of being anti-intellectual in his emphasis on piety and feeling over reason. Schleiermacher, however, would not deny the need and value of “knowing:” he simply would not give it primacy over feeling. His concern was to enforce the fact that human knowing is limited and does not have access to all there is to know. We are not God, and our abilities are not as broad or deep.”
So, I guess that my emphasis on feelings as conduits for revelation goes back at least as far as Schleiermacher. File this under “Nothing new under the sun.”


Franklyn said...

The concept that "faith is not the experience of isolated individuals, but rather the lived experience of a faith community" has long been accepted in the behavioral sciences community. It explains not only religious faith but also many types of group behavior, some of which are rather unfortunate, such as national socialism, mob behaviour, group hysteria, etc. To rely on emotional responses without a articulated intellectual framework is a risky approach.

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