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International Herder Society

Call for papers

Herder and the nineteenth century

International Herder Society Conference in Turku, June 8-10, 2018


Herder has traditionally been depicted as a forerunner and catalyst of several intellectual movements in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, even though he has not been portrayed as the central figure of any one of them in particular. As Hermann Hettner puts it: “So deeply did Herder influence his period in all directions that the great poetry of Goethe and Schiller, the so-called Romantic school, Hegel’s and Schelling’s philosophy are all inconceivable without his having led the way”. What is unusual about this impact is that hardly anyone openly admitted their debt to Herder. Today we know the particular reasons for this “forgetting”: above all, the controversy with Kant looms large. When Kant—who was the highest authority in philosophical and scholarly matters—not only labelled Herder the advocate of an obsolete metaphysics but also declared him entirely incapable of serious philosophical discourse (see H. Adler, J. Zammito), who could still call oneself a follower of Herder? The silence of later thinkers about their dependence on Herder makes research into his impact and influence difficult. The methodological question of how one can demonstrate a connection when Herder’s name remains unmentioned is an obvious one. The conference participants are nevertheless encouraged to venture incorporating into their research topic not only open engagements with Herder’s work, but also Herder’s hidden presence on the intellectual scene of the nineteenth century. What follows is an overview of some key aspects of this question that can be distinguished.
   How did Herder influence the philosophy of the nineteenth century? What role did his monism play in the efforts of post-Kantian philosophy to bridge the divide between theoretical and practical reason, between the realms of necessity (nature) and freedom (human beings)? How did the thorough historicisation of thought which Herder launched in the study of history and with respect to the conceptions of reason and the human being live on in the following generations? More specific questions about philosophy after Herder might include the following: Is there a connection between Herder’s understanding of the sense of touch as the most fundamental sense, through which we become conscious of ourselves as something distinct from the surrounding world, and the similar function of feeling in the early Romantics (M. Frank)? What is the relationship between Schelling and Hegel’s concept of the Absolute and Herder’s Spinozism? Is there a connection between Herder’s epistemological skepticism and that of Nietzsche’s? How does Herder fit into the “historicisation of epistemology”? Herder’s philosophy is intimately bound up with his anthropology; one might ask which authors and discussions in the nineteenth century (see Marino 2008, 2009) contributed to the reception of his anthropology in the twentieth century (A. Gehlen). What marks has Herder’s philosophy of history left on nineteenth century philosophy of history and historical thought? To what extent is Friedrich Schlegel’s view of the modern period connected to Herderian ideas? What is the connection between Herder’s and Hegel’s philosophy of history? How was his philosophy of history received abroad—e.g., in France (Edgar Quinet)? What influence did Herder have on the historiography of the century, e.g., on Leopold von Ranke?
  What significance do Herder’s aesthetics and theory of the fine arts have for aesthetic and art theoretical thought in the nineteenth century? How, for example, can the conceptual binaries poetic—prosaic epoch, natural (“naïve”)—artificial (“sentimental”) poetry be described in the different contexts in which they appear? To what extent does Herder’s content-aesthetic thought (Gehaltästhetik), his view of art as sensuous expression or as objectification of the mental, continue to have an effect on the aesthetic thought of the century? The historical view of literature was a basic condition for the emergence of modern literary studies as the history of literature at the beginning of the nineteenth century. It can be assumed that Herder’s approach, which emphasized the historical variability and historically conditioned nature of literature, had a decisive influence on the direction of modern literary studies; how this occurred, however, has not yet been fully elucidated. To what extent do Friedrich and August Wilhelm Schlegel base their thought on Herder; to what extent, for example, does Gervinus? The question of the writing of literary history cannot be separated from the question of the principles of literary criticism; here too the association with Herderian principles should constitute a subject of inquiry.
  The question of “Herder and the philology of the nineteenth century” overlaps with the question of his effect on literary historiography. If by philology one understands a study in which the linguistic, the historical, and the aesthetic-artistic all serve as joint starting points of research into ancient texts, then Herder is clearly someone who, with his interest in Old German / Old Anglo-Saxon literature, among others, displays interest in this domain and provides stimulus to its research. The ways in which Herder’s emphasis on the historicization of thought, his language theory, and his hermeneutics (Irmscher) have had an effect on classical and modern philologies, language theory and the history of language, and hermeneutic theory, should be worthy of investigation. Can we understand Wilhelm von Humboldt’s idea of language as ergon and energeia other than as a Herderian legacy? Is Herder’s voice to be heard in Jacob Grimm’s intention, in his German Grammar, to describe “an historical life with the flow of happy development”? What is the relationship between Herder’s approach to hermeneutics and the nineteenth century hermeneutics from Friedrich August Wolf and Friedrich Ast to Dilthey? Lastly, the question “Herder and the philology of the nineteenth century” can also be understood the other way round, as a question about Herder-philology: what is the publication history of Herder’s works in the nineteenth century and how did this affect the image of Herder and his reception (see Renner 2016)?
  Herder’s interest in the collecting of folk poetry may have been a decisive stimulus for the emergence of folkloristics. His opinion that valuable poetry is also to be found among “uneducated” peoples was extremely important in cultural-political terms and received great political significance in many small nations in north- and southeast Europe, which did not enjoy political independence. The “discovery” of folk poetry, especially the “national epics” like the Finnish Kalevala, the Estonian Kalevipoeg, and the Latvian L??pl?sis, was taken as proof of the cultural independence of these nations, which could then lead to the demand for political independence. In this way Herder was also connected with the nationalistic movements of the nineteenth century. Subsequently he was even depicted as a chauvinistic nationalist; it is therefore important to study his actual influence on the national (or nationalistic) movements of the century. The topic “Herder and politics”, however, could also be treated in an entirely different connection, namely with reference to the democratic movement between 1830 and 1848, for example, under the heading “Herder and the Paulskirche generation”.
   Herder’s considerable significance for the emergence of a new poetic, theoretical, and historical interest in mythology at the end of the eighteenth century and in the nineteenth century has already been demonstrated by Fritz Strich. Herder’s view of the mythology of a people as the poetic expression of its basic conceptions of the world, the gods, and the human being lived on not only in the poetry of the Romantics, but also in Schelling and Hegel’s thought, and formed the basis for the historical and ethnographic study of myths in the nineteenth century. Finally one must ask what effect Herder had on the theology of the nineteenth century: how were his interpretations of the Old and New Testaments received and further developed; what effect did his homiletics and his views on the training of ministers continue to have? One should naturally also not ignore his ideas on pedagogy and education: what was, e.g., Humboldt’s educational reform other than a practical realization of Herderian ideas? – The above list makes no claim to being exhaustive; its intention is rather only to illustrate the rich diversity of potential approaches to the topic “Herder and the nineteenth century”.

A tentative schedule of the conference you may download here.


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