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Søren Kierkegaard is generally considered to be the "father of existentialism". This always bothered me, since to me Sartre and Camus are the defining figures of the movement, and it seems that there is no room for God in an existential worldview.

Kierkegaard was focused on concrete reality and the individual so you could say that there are elements of existentialism in his philosophy, but is that enough given that he held a faith in a power outside the self which provides immortal value?

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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_existentialism Basically, no. Theistic existentialism is alive and well. See Martin Buber, for example. –  Cody Gray Jun 8 '11 at 6:45
Who calls Kierkegaard the "father of existentialism"??? I've only heard that title in reference to Sartre. He was the first self-proclaimed existentialist. The term wasn't even in use when Kierkegaard was alive. –  smartcaveman Jun 29 '11 at 6:05
I've heard or read (cant remember) one or many (cant remember) references to Kierkegaard being the "father of existentialism". I've heard it go Kierkegaard -> Heidegger -> then on to the French. –  Jeong Kim Dec 3 '12 at 15:15
yeah it's oft said that K. is its father, even quotes this in the SEP premable –  MATHEMATICIAN Jan 9 at 3:27
Alan! You're back! You look good for being dead for just over 50 years! –  Cort Ammon Jan 9 at 20:07

6 Answers 6

up vote 16 down vote accepted

Perhaps a better question to ask is the inverse: whether traditional religion is compatible with existential philosophy; Kierkegaard's existential beliefs certainly affected his view of the role of religion, to the point that his theology was extremely controversial among his contemporaries. Existentialism doesn't necessarily require the outright rejection of the possibility that a God exists; just the rejection of the notion that we must place God before all else in choosing how to live our lives.

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Atheism also does not require the outright rejection of the possibility that a God exists. –  philosodad Jul 5 '12 at 15:24
"Existentialism [necessarily requires] the rejection of the notion that we must place God before all else in choosing how to live our lives" is at worst untrue, or at the very least, misleading. Many mistake Existentialism as taking on other traits of its attributed members. Sartre was athiest, and Camus didn't consider himself an existentialist, and neither Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, or Doestoyevski ever heard of the word. Its in hindsight, historical writers attribute certain thinkers to this group. Only Sartre and Heiddeger may have called themselves "existentialists." –  chillin Jan 6 at 11:02
As a Christian existentialist myself, I strongly disagree with the claim that either Kierkegaard or Christian existentialism reject placing God before all else --indeed that is the very starting point for Christian existentialism. –  Chris Sunami Jan 9 at 21:39

An existentialist philosophy is nothing more than a philosophy who's subject is human life and the human experience. The substance and particulars of existentialism cover a wide spectrum of beliefs and ideas.

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are't some religions so? buddhism i guess ? –  MATHEMATICIAN Jan 9 at 3:18

God is negotiable under existential tenets, as is any other exigency. Just as neither the weather in Brazil nor the affairs of Peter Pan bear much impact on a day to day accounting of life for me, neither does god; it is not to say the same for others' accounting.

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Much of the answer to this depends on what you mean by 'atheism.' As the opposite of 'theism,' that form of atheism is just as dogmatic as what it seems to reject. The existential project looks at the event in the present in all its contingencies, so our relationship to a deeper or 'divine' reality might well be part of that. This a/theism does not affirm that there is a transcendent being who/that created the world and now controls what happens on it--that is a difficult reality to justify in the face of ever-increasing evidence of the uneveness or unjust realities that just happen...such a vision of the divine has to affirm the incompetence of the divine agent. But that does not mean that there is not a deeper or other dimension to reality which is related intrisically to our actions. Quantum physics, string theory, and the worke of Brian Greene and others have opened up this possibility, not as a necessity, as Hawking pointed out, but as an enrichment of the existential moment.

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The religious existentialists like already mentioned Buber, would be studying the nature of religion in a different way. No existentialist would claim that these experiences are limited to the clergy, yet there is a certain supra philosophical import to say Kierkegaard, as if he were not just doing a philosophy of religion, but asking the reader to become something or other.

Which is why characterizing Heidegger as an existentialist may be problematic.

So in effect K. is both doing the philosophy of religion, and proselyting for it. Unlike e.g. historical Buddhists who aren't really philosophers in the "western" sense.

One thing that bugs me, though, is when people assume an existentialist is religious because they themselves are.

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"when people assume an existentialist is religious because they themselves are" --who does this? in relationship to whom? –  Chris Sunami Jan 9 at 21:57
just people on line like, it's not a philosophical crticism –  MATHEMATICIAN Jan 10 at 15:51

For Kierkegaard, and by extension Christian existentialists in general, it is precisely the primacy of the personal relationship with God that releases the individual from all other bindings of religion, law, custom, morals and tradition (while at the same time laying on the existential "yoke" of absolute direct obedience to God).

Although this clearly places the Christian existentialist at odds with the religious bureaucracies of the world, it is not as much of a break with the Christian legacy as might be imagined --much of the writings of Paul and the teachings of Jesus in the gospels seemingly imply or arguably even demand as much.

Is this truly existentialism as commonly understood? Perhaps not, but the influence of Kierkegaard on Sartre and Camus is impossible to ignore. Both Kierkegaard and the French philosophers focused on the responsibilities of absolute freedom. In Kierkegaard that freedom is found in God, for Sartre and Camus, in the absence of God.

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