Research Programs: Fellowships for College Teachers and Independent Scholars

Period of Performance

9/1/2012 - 8/31/2013

Funding Totals

$50,400.00 (approved)
$50,400.00 (awarded)

The Spread of Phenomenology in Europe during the 20th Century

FAIN: FB-56460-12

Edward George Baring
Drew University (Madison, NJ 07940-1434)

In the middle decades of the twentieth century Phenomenology broke with the parochialism of much modern philosophy to spread across Europe. This diaspora, with its apparent neglect of linguistic and national borders, makes phenomenology so fascinating. My research draws attention to the international communities of Christian scholars that facilitated the expansion of phenomenology beyond its initial base in a few German university towns. Networks of Thomist scholars and their opponents acted as conduits for the dissemination of phenomenological ideas, whether into Poland, where in 1954 a young Karol Wojtyla (the future John Paul II) tried to reformulate phenomenological ethics, or into Belgium, where Père Herman Van Breda transported the Husserl archives in 1938 to save them from the Nazis. Far from being a reactionary force in intellectual life, the Catholic Church provided the transnational connections necessary for the constitution of a truly continental philosophy.

Associated Products

Anxiety in Translation: Naming Existentialism before Sartre (Article)
Title: Anxiety in Translation: Naming Existentialism before Sartre
Author: Edward Baring
Abstract: This article examines the international debate over the most appropriate name for what became known as ‘existentialism’. It starts by detailing the diverse strands of the Kierkegaard reception in Germany in the early inter-war period, which were given a variety of labels—Existentialismus, Existenzphilosophie, Existentialphilosophie and existentielle Philosophie—and shows how, as these words were translated into other languages, the differences between them were effaced. This process helps explain how over the 1930s a remarkably heterogeneous group of thinkers came to be included under the same label. The article then shows how the word ‘existentialism’ and its cognates in other languages gained prominence because they were considered to represent best the diversity and richness of the movement. In detailing this process the article helps elucidate how existentialism emerged as an international philosophy in the period immediately following World War II, and sheds light on the ambivalence with which many have viewed both the term and the philosophy it represents.
Year: 2015
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: History of European Ideas (2015)
Access Model: Subscription
Format: Journal
Periodical Title: History of European Ideas
Publisher: Routledge

A Secular Kierkegaard: Confessional Readings of Heidegger before 1945 (Article)
Title: A Secular Kierkegaard: Confessional Readings of Heidegger before 1945
Author: Edward Baring
Abstract: In the early reception of Martin Heidegger in Europe, networks of religious philosophers and theologians, in particular dialectical theologians and neo-scholastics, helped carry Heidegger's thought throughout and beyond the German-speaking world. Despite the paucity of references to the Danish philosopher in Heidegger's Being and Time, these thinkers figured Heidegger as a “secular Kierkegaard.” Both groups read Being and Time as an ontological analysis of the human subject, but the dialectical theologians located the secularizing drive in Heidegger's ontology, while the neo-scholastics identified it in the restriction of that ontology to the human subject. The contradictory accounts rendered secularization suspect. When Jean Wahl in 1937 accounted for the difficulty of secularizing Kierkegaard's thought, Wahl's argument drew attention to the fractious confessional context for the Heidegger reception. The article considers the implications of this history for the use of the concept of secularization in intellectual history by examining the Löwith-Blumenberg controversy.
Year: 2015
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: New German Critique
Access Model: Subscription
Format: Journal
Periodical Title: New German Critique
Publisher: Duke University Press

Converts to the Real: Catholicism and the Making of Continental Philosophy (Book)
Title: Converts to the Real: Catholicism and the Making of Continental Philosophy
Author: Edward Baring
Abstract: Of all modern schools of thought, phenomenology has the strongest claim to the mantle of “continental” philosophy. In the first half of the twentieth century, phenomenology expanded from a few German towns into a movement spanning Europe. Edward Baring shows that credit for this prodigious growth goes to a surprising group of early enthusiasts: Catholic intellectuals. Placing phenomenology in historical context, Baring reveals the enduring influence of Catholicism in twentieth-century intellectual thought. Converts to the Real argues that Catholic scholars allied with phenomenology because they thought it mapped a path out of modern idealism—which they associated with Protestantism and secularization—and back to Catholic metaphysics. Seeing in this unfulfilled promise a bridge to Europe’s secular academy, Catholics set to work extending phenomenology’s reach, writing many of the first phenomenological publications in languages other than German and organizing the first international conferences on phenomenology. The Church even helped rescue Edmund Husserl’s papers from Nazi Germany in 1938. But phenomenology proved to be an unreliable ally, and in debates over its meaning and development, Catholic intellectuals contemplated the ways it might threaten the faith. As a result, Catholics showed that phenomenology could be useful for secular projects, and encouraged its adoption by the philosophical establishment in countries across Europe and beyond. Baring traces the resonances of these Catholic debates in postwar Europe. From existentialism, through the phenomenology of Paul Ricoeur and Maurice Merleau-Ponty, to the speculative realism of the present, European thought bears the mark of Catholicism, the original continental philosophy.
Year: 2019
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: HUP Site
Publisher: Harvard University Press
Type: Single author monograph
ISBN: 9780674988378
Copy sent to NEH?: Yes