Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
June 28, 2022

Kierkegaard Repetitions hosts Danish Ambassador

By AVI POSEN | September 26, 2013

Hopkins honored the bicentennial of 19th century Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard’s birth last weekend by hosting a conference titled “Kierkegaard Repetitions,” with people coming from around the world to discuss the intricacies of Kierkegaard’s work. The conference, which was organized by the Hopkins Humanities Center and sponsored by the Royal Danish Embassy, featured an array of speakers, including the Danish Ambassador to the United States, Peter Taksøe-Jensen.

Kierkegaard was born in Copenhagen in 1813 and is regarded as the founder of existentialist philosophy — a philosophy that swept mainland Europe in the late 19th century and became increasingly popular after the Second World War. Existentialism posited that we as humans apply meaning and order to an absurd and disorderly world. Kierkengaard is perhaps most notable for his critique of idealists of his time and his emphasis on personal choice.

Former Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow and current Assistant Professor at the Humanities Center Leonardo Lisi opened the conference by thanking all collaborators and contributors, a list that included the Danish Embassy, the Office of the Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, the Department of German and Romance Languages and Literatures and the Max Kade Center for Modern German Thought. Lisi, who organized the conference, also introduced Taksøe-Jensen.

Taksøe-Jensen discussed the life of Kierkegaard as well as his impact on Danish society, naming Kierkegaard’s criticism of state religion as particularly important.

Taksøe-Jensen, who served as Assistant Secretary-General for Legal Affairs at the United Nations from 2008 to 2010, then shifted his speech to talk about Kierkegaard’s role in American culture, where philosopher and psychologist William James was the first to take interest in him.

Taksøe-Jensen tracked Kierkegaardian influence to 20th century pop culture, where Kierkegaard’s philosophy has manifested in various art forms, including the Woody Allen film Crimes and Misdemeanors.

“Hopkins is, in some sense, not an obvious place to host a conference on Kierkegaard, since we don't have the kinds of departments that have traditionally studied his thought in the American academia, such as Divinity Schools and Religious Studies programs,” Lisi wrote in an email to The News-Letter. “But when I started at Hopkins, I also noticed that in spite of this we actually have a remarkably high number of faculty who have worked on and published about Kierkegaard: myself, Michael Fried, Hent de Vries, Yi-Ping Ong and Elisabeth Strowick, among them. There are also a number of graduate students working on Kierkegaard. So from that perspective alone, Hopkins made a lot of sense.”

Furthermore, Lisi made clear in his e-mail how Kierkegaard’s legacy fits well with the Humanities Center at Hopkins.

“Kierkegaard is always working on the boundary between literature and philosophy, theology and psychology, and so on, and those relations are also central to the research conducted at the [Humanities Center],” Lisi wrote. Lisi also noted how the study of Kierkegaard’s philosophy still remains significant 200 years after his birth.

“I think studying the history of philosophy and seeing it as relevant today go hand in hand. Unquestionably Kierkegaard had a tremendous influence on 20th century movements in philosophy that are probably still considered quite contemporary and modern,” Lisi wrote.

The bicentennial provided an opportunity to change the traditional conception of Kierkegaardian philosophy from a largely theological to a more modern, multifaceted one that incorporates many branches of the Humanities Center.

“Besides celebrating Kierkegaard's birth and bringing attention to his thought, the conference was aimed at highlighting the interdisciplinary nature of his work.” Lisi wrote.

Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences Katherine Newman further exemplified this in her speech Friday morning, in which she took on a sociological perspective on Kierkegaard.

Other speakers referenced other philosophers to help further the study of Kierkegaard.

Lore Hühn, a professor at the University of Freiburg in Germany, compared Kierkegaard with philosophers such as Georg Wilhelm Hegel and Theodor Adorno in his Saturday morning talk, while Pia Søltoft, an associate professor at the University of Copenhagen, examined the similarities and differences between Kierkegaard and philosopher Harry Frankfurt in her talk Friday morning.

“The conference was extremely successful in showing both that all of these disciplines and approaches can help us open up Kierkegaard's texts in new ways and that Kierkegaard has something important to contribute to them all in turn,” Lisi wrote.

Comments powered by Disqus

Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The News-Letter.

News-Letter Special Editions