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The Phenomenology of Religious Life

The Phenomenology of Religious Life

by Martin Heidegger

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The Phenomenology of Religious Life presents the text of Heidegger’s important 1920–21 lectures on religion. The volume consists of the famous lecture course Introduction to the Phenomenology of Religion, a course on Augustine and Neoplatonism, and notes for a course on The Philosophical Foundations of Medieval Mysticism that was never delivered.


The Phenomenology of Religious Life presents the text of Heidegger’s important 1920–21 lectures on religion. The volume consists of the famous lecture course Introduction to the Phenomenology of Religion, a course on Augustine and Neoplatonism, and notes for a course on The Philosophical Foundations of Medieval Mysticism that was never delivered. Heidegger’s engagements with Aristotle, St. Paul, Augustine, and Luther give readers a sense of what phenomenology would come to mean in the mature expression of his thought. Heidegger reveals an impressive display of theological knowledge, protecting Christian life experience from Greek philosophy and defending Paul against Nietzsche.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Scrupulously prepared and eminently readable. What Heidegger undertakes here is nothing less than a phenomenological destruction of the history of religion. —Choice" —

John D. Caputo

"We get a sense of what phenomenology would come to mean for Heidegger from these lectures.... The reader will meet here a surprising Heidegger." —John D. Caputo


"Scrupulously prepared and eminently readable. What Heidegger undertakes here is nothing less than a phenomenological destruction of the history of religion." —Choice

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Indiana University Press
Publication date:
Studies in Continental Thought
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The Phenomenology of Religious Life

By Martin Heidegger, Matthias Fritsch, Jennifer Anna Gosetti-Ferencei

Indiana University Press

Copyright © 2004 Indiana University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-253-00449-9


The Formation of Philosophical Concepts and Factical Life Experience

The Peculiarity of Philosophical Concepts

It is necessary to determine the meaning of words of the lecture's announcement preliminarily. This necessity is grounded in the peculiarity of philosophical concepts. In the specific scientific disciplines, concepts are determined through their integration into a material complex; and the more familiar this context is, the more exactly its concepts can be fixed. Philosophical concepts, on the contrary, are vacillating, vague, manifold, and fluctuating, as is shown in the alteration of philosophical standpoints. This uncertainty of philosophical concepts is not, however, exclusively founded upon this alteration of standpoints. It belongs, rather, to the sense of philosophical concepts themselves that they always remain uncertain. The possibility of access to philosophical concepts is fundamentally different from the possibility of access to scientific concepts. Philosophy does not have at its disposal an objectively and thoroughly formed material context into which concepts can be integrated in order to receive their determination. There is thus a difference in principle between science and philosophy. This provisional thesis will prove itself in the course of these observations. (It is due to the necessity of linguistic formulation alone that this is a thesis, a proposition, at all.)

We can, however, take a more efficient route in order to realize that a preliminary understanding of the title's concepts is necessary. We speak of philosophical and scientific "concepts," of "introductions" to the sciences and to phenomenology. This shows a certain commonality despite the difference in principle between them. From where stems that commonality? Philosophy, one might think, is just as much a rational, cognitive comportment as science is. This results in the idea of the "proposition in general," of the "concept in general," etc. But this conception is not free from the prejudice of philosophy as a science. The idea of scientific knowledge and concepts is not to be carried over into philosophy on the basis of an extension of the concept of the scientific proposition to the proposition in general, as if the rational contexts of science and philosophy were identical. Nonetheless, there is a "leveled-off" understanding of philosophical and scientific "concepts" and "propositions." In "factical life," these concepts and propositions encounter each other in the sphere of linguistic presentation and communication as "meanings" which are being "understood." Initially, they are not at all marked off from one another. Since we have to realize that the comprehension of philosophical concepts is different from that of scientific concepts, we must find out how this leveled-off understanding of such concepts and propositions arises.

Is this entire consideration not a perpetual treatment of preliminary questions? Apparently, one hesitates evasively at the introductory stage; one makes necessity—the incapacity for positive creations—into a virtue. Philosophy can be reproached for turning perpetually upon preliminary questions only if one borrows the measure of its evaluation from the idea of the sciences, and if one expects from philosophy the solution of concrete problems and demands of it the construction of a world-view. I wish to increase and keep awake philosophy's need to be ever turning upon preliminary questions, so much so that it will indeed become a virtue. About what is proper to philosophy itself, I have nothing to say to you. I will deliver nothing that is materially interesting or that moves the heart. Our task is much more limited.

§ 2. On the Title of the Lecture Course

The title of this lecture course reads: "Introduction to the Phenomenology of Religion." This title can be given a thrice-nuanced meaning, depending on the noun one emphasizes. We must reach a provisional understanding of the three concepts "introduction," "phenomenology"—which for us will have the same meaning as "philosophy"—and "religion." In the midst of these efforts, we will soon encounter a peculiar core phenomenon, the problem of the historical. This problem will lead to limitations upon our present aspiration.

We will begin with the clarification of the meaning of words, but we will refer immediately to the connections among objects indicated in these meanings such that these connections will be put into question.

1. What does "introduction" mean?

An "introduction" to a science is usually comprised of three aspects:

a) the delimitation of the material domain [Sachgebiet];

b) the doctrine of the methodological treatment of the material domain (a and b can be taken together: determination (Feststellung ) of the concept, the goal and the task of the science);

c) the historical consideration of the previous attempts to pose and resolve the scientific tasks.

Can one introduce philosophy in the same way? An introduction to the sciences presents the domain of the subject matter, and the methodological treatment of that domain (its goal and task), and a historical overview of the various attempts at solutions. If the sciences and philosophy are different, and if the philosopher wishes to give what is properly philosophical its due, then it is questionable whether he can simply adopt this schema of an introduction. One recognizes a philosopher by looking at his introduction to philosophy. An introduction according to the usual schema obscures the philosophical connections. With regard to their subject matter [sachhaltig], an introduction to biology, to chemistry, and to the history of literature are very different in kind, but they possess a great formal similarity: they proceed according to the same schema. The idea of science—not taken logically and abstractly, but concretely as the enactment of science, understood as actual research and collaboration, and not, for instance, as a pure rational system—motivates, understandably, the sense [Sinn] of the schema of an introduction. Historically, of course, the sciences, even with respect to their sense, originate from philosophy. "Originating" is meant in a very specific sense in this context. One usually takes this to mean that specific particular disciplines split off from a universal science, that is, that they autonomized themselves. In this context, origination means the determination, with an independent method, of a specific domain of a subject matter that previously had been worked upon by philosophy. Thus, one presupposes that philosophy itself is a science, too. This conception of the origination of the sciences from philosophy as the "cognitive dealing with the world," in which the sciences are already embryonically present, is a prejudice on the part of current philosophy that is projected back into history. Only a particular, formative modification of a moment already potentially present in philosophy—a moment, however, found in philosophy in its original, unmodified form—turns the sciences, in their origination from philosophy and according to the specific character of this origination, into sciences. The sciences are thus not to be found in philosophy. This leads us to the question: 2. What is calledphilosophy?

The introductory questions never interest the scientist as much as the proper, concrete scientific problems. And the introduction, especially where it encounters what is philosophical, reveals a certain well-grounded insecurity. We will not let ourselves be disconcerted by such judgments. Perhaps in philosophy the "introduction" has such an important meaning that it has to be considered alongside every step into philosophy. The introduction is not merely technique. The question of the essence of philosophy appears unfruitful and "academic." But this, too, is only the consequence of the common conception of philosophy as a science. For instance, a philologist is not interested in the "essence" of philology. But the philosopher occupies himself seriously with the essence of philosophy before he turns to positive work. The fact that philosophy constantly has to attain clarity about its essence is a deficiency only if the idea of science is cited as the norm. The history of philosophy can be understood philosophically only if there is a difference in principle between philosophy and science; for only then can the great philosophical systems be considered, with this problem as the guiding thread, according to the following aspects:

1. What is the original motive of the philosophy under consideration?

2. What are the conceptual, cognitive means to the realization of this motive?

3. Did these means originally arise from the motive of the philosophy under consideration, so that they were not adopted from other ideals, particularly scientific ones?

4. Do certain points of rupture, at which philosophy opens out into scientific channels, manifest themselves, as in all previous philosophies?

5. Is the motive of the philosophy under consideration itself original or is it adopted from other motives of life and from other ideals?

It is in this respect that we will consider the history of philosophy. If the history of philosophy is considered otherwise, it becomes either merely beautiful talk or a classifying occupation.

How do we arrive at the self-understanding of philosophy? This can be attained only by philosophizing itself, not by way of scientific proofs and definitions, that is, not by philosophy's integration into a universal, objectively formed material complex [Sachzusammenhang]. That this is so lies in the concept of "self-understanding." What philosophy itself is can never be rendered evident scientifically but can only be made clear in philosophizing itself. One cannot define philosophy in the usual way; one cannot characterize it through an integration into a material complex, according to the manner in which, as it is said, chemistry is a science and painting is an art. The integration of philosophy into a conceptual system has also been attempted by claiming that philosophy deals with a specific object in a specific manner. But even here the scientific conception of philosophy comes into play. In these attempts, the principles of thought and cognition remain unclarified. One can, nevertheless, speak in this manner of painting, despite its not being a science. One can say, for example, that it is an art. In fact, this is, in a very formal sense, justified even with regard to philosophy, wherein this kind of formality is still to be clarified.

The problem of the self-understanding of philosophy has always been taken too lightly. If one grasps this problem radically, one finds that philosophy arises from factical life experience. And within factical life experience philosophy returns back into factical life experience. The concept of factical life experience is fundamental. The designation of philosophy as cognitive, rational comportment says nothing at all; with this designation, one falls prey to the ideal of science, thus obscuring precisely the main difficulty.

§ 3. Factical Life Experience as the Point of Departure

What is called "factical life experience?" "Experience" designates: (1) the experiencing activity, (2) that which is experienced through this activity. However, we use the word intentionally in its double sense, because it is precisely the fact that the experiencing self and what is experienced are not torn apart like things that expresses what is essential in factical life experience. "Experiencing" does not mean "taking-cognizance-of" but a confrontation-with, the self-assertion of the forms of what is experienced. It has both a passive and an active sense. "Factical" does not mean naturally real or causally determined, nor does it mean real in the sense of a thing. The concept "factical" may not be interpreted from certain epistemological presuppositions, but can be made intelligible only from the concept of the "historical." At the same time, however, "factical life experience" is a danger zone for independent philosophy since the ambitions of the sciences already validate themselves in this zone.

The idea that philosophy and science are objective formations of sense, separated propositions, and propositional complexes must be eliminated. When the sciences in general are taken to be philosophically problematic, they are investigated according to a theory of science as to their extricated propositional truth complex. One has to grasp the concrete sciences themselves in their enactment, and the scientific process must be laid out in its foundations as historical. This is what contemporary philosophy not only overlooks but intentionally rejects; [this historicality] is allowed no role. We defend the thesis that science is different in principle from philosophy. This must be considered.

All great philosophers have wished to elevate philosophy to the rank of a science, which implies the admission of a deficiency of the respective philosophy—namely, that it is not yet science. One therefore orients oneself toward a rigorous scientific philosophy. Is rigor a super-scientific concept? Originally, the concept and sense of rigor is philosophical and not scientific; originally, only philosophy is rigorous; it possesses a rigor in the face of which the rigor of science is merely derivative.

Philosophy's constant effort to determine its own concept belongs to its authentic motive. For a scientific philosophy, on the contrary, it is never possible to reject the reproach of ever tarrying with the "epistemological," preliminary considerations. Philosophy is to be liberated from its "secularization" to a science, or to a scientific doctrine of world-views. The derivation of science from philosophy is to be determined positively. Today, one usually assumes a standpoint of compromise: in its particularity, philosophy is said to be science, but its general tendency is to present a world-view. In this, however, the concepts "science" and "world-view" remain vague and unclarified. How can one reach the self-understanding of philosophy? Apparently, the path of scientific deduction is cut off in advance through our thesis. This self-understanding cannot, further, be reached through reference to the "object" of philosophy; philosophy does not, perhaps, deal with an object at all. Perhaps one may not even ask for its object. Through mystical intuitions we would cut off the problem in advance.

The point of departure of the path to philosophy is factical life experience. It seems, however, as if philosophy is leading us out of factical life experience. In fact, that path leads us, as it were, only near philosophy, not up to it. Philosophy itself can only be reached through a turning around of that path, but not through a simple turning which would orient cognition merely toward different objects but, more radically, through an authentic transformation. Neo-Kantianism (Natorp) simply reverses the process of "objectification" (of the cognition of objects) and thus arrives at the "subjectification" (which is supposed to represent the philosophical, psychological process). In this, the object is merely drawn from the object into the subject, whereas cognition qua cognition remains the same unclarified phenomenon.

Factical life experience is very peculiar; in it, the path to philosophy is made possible and the turning around which leads to philosophy is enacted. This difficulty is to be understood through a preliminary characterization of the phenomenon of factical life experience. Life experience is more than mere experience which takes cognizance of. It designates the whole active and passive pose of the human being toward the world: If we view factical life experience only in regard to the experienced content, we designate what is experienced—what is lived as experience [das Erlebte]—as the "world," not the "object." "World" is that in which one can live (one cannot live in an object). The world can be formally articulated as surrounding world (milieu), as that which we encounter, and to which belong not only material things but also ideal objectivities, the sciences, art, etc. Within this surrounding world is also the communal world, that is, other human beings in a very specific, factical characterization: as a student, a lecturer, as a relative, superior, etc., and not as specimen of the natural-scientific species homo sapiens, and the like. Finally, the "I"-self, the self-world, is also found within factical life experience. Insofar as it is possible that I am absorbed by the arts and sciences such that I live entirely in them, the arts and sciences are to be designated as genuine life-worlds. But even they are experienced in the manner of a surrounding world. One cannot, however, abruptly demarcate the phenomena of these worlds from each other, consider them as isolated formations, ask about their mutual relationships, divide them into genera and species, etc. That would already be a deforming, a sliding into epistemology. An epistemologically performed layering and ranking of these three worlds would already be a violation. Nothing is said here about the relation of the life-worlds; the primary point is that they become accessible to factical life experience. One can only characterize the manner, the how, of the experiencing of those worlds; that is, one can ask about the relational sense of factical life experience. It is questionable whether the how—the relation—determines that which is experienced—the content—and how the content is characterized. We will isolate, furthermore, the taking-cognizance-of or the cognitive experiencing, since philosophy is supposed to be cognitive behavior. First, however, the meaning of this taking-cognizance-of must be understood from the motive of experiencing itself.


Excerpted from The Phenomenology of Religious Life by Martin Heidegger, Matthias Fritsch, Jennifer Anna Gosetti-Ferencei. Copyright © 2004 Indiana University Press. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
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What People are Saying About This

John D. Caputo
"We get a sense of what phenomenology would come to mean for Heidegger from these lectures.... The reader will meet here a surprising Heidegger." —John D. Caputo

Meet the Author

Matthias Fritsch is Associate Professor and Department Chair in Philosophy at Concordia University. He is author of The Promise Memory: History and Politics in Marx, Benjamin, and Derrida.

Jennifer Anna Gosetti-Ferencei is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Fordham University. She is author of The Ecstatic Quotidian: Phenomenological Sightings in Modern Art and Literature.

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