Paul Tillich and Franz Rosenzweig: Picturing Revelation

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Hendrickson, Caleb, Religious Studies - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Hendrickson, Caleb, AS-Religious Studies, University of Virginia

This dissertation brings together Paul Tillich and Franz Rosenzweig around questions regarding pictures and pictoriality in modern theology and speculative religious thought. It argues that Tillich and Rosenzweig, dissimilar thinkers in many ways, similarly frame the act of revelation in terms of visual perception and pictorial imagination. They do so in the face of Enlightenment skepticism regarding both revelation and the epistemic validity of sensory figures of knowledge, such as myths, symbols, and images. Against this rationalist current of modern thought, Tillich and Rosenzweig dare to picture revelation.

I situate these pictorial renderings of revelation in Rosenzweig’s and Tillich’s shared intellectual context. I argue that their religious epistemologies are animated from within by the aesthetic energies of romantic idealism, with its emphasis on form (Gestalt) and visualizing intuition (Anschauung); and I argue that neo-Kantian influences lead them to conceive religious knowing as a matter of pictorial recognition. However, the aim of this dissertation is to understand the visual-pictorial dimensions of Tillich’s and Rosenzweig’s thought not on the basis of these philosophical precedents alone, but also through the lens of some modern and contemporary ideas regarding pictures and pictorial perception, drawn from philosophy, art history, and image theory.

From this vantage point, the dissertation creates a number of cross-views: between religion and art, philosophy and theology, and Judaism and Christianity, as these pairings take shape in early twentieth-century modern thought. It offers in-depth readings of Tillich’s early German thought and Rosenzweig’s magnum opus, The Star of Redemption. It brings these two monumental figures of twentieth-century religious thought into conversation for the first time.

The question pressed throughout the dissertation is whether the presentational quality of pictorial perception, when made to mediate revelation and religious knowing, renders religious truth an illusory self-projection, or whether the pictures engendered by religious life and consciousness may vouchsafe the objectivity of a God beyond the “I”/eye. I conclude that, for Tillich and Rosenzweig, the objectivity of revelation’s truth cannot be confirmed relative to any point outside the picture in which it is given. Rather the picture’s credibility – whether Tillich’s “picture of Christ” or Rosenzweig’s “Star of Redemption” – is made to rest on its reciprocal appropriation in the socio-ethical forms of Jewish or Christian life, the same forms of life by which the picture is projected.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Paul Tillich, Franz Rosenzweig
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