Dr Judith Wolfe has recently been appointed as Lecturer in the Arts at St Andrews, UK. She has taught at the University of Oxford, UK, and is General Editor of the Journal of Inklings Studies. She was recently awarded a Teaching Excellence Award by the University of Oxford Humanities division.
T&T Clark published her book Heidegger and Theology, which is a useful guide to Heidegger's impact on theology, and vice versa the impact of theology on Heidegger's philosophy, for students and scholars.
It explains Heidegger's key ideas, describes their development and analyses the role of theology in his major writings, including his lectures during the National Socialist era. It also reviews the reception of Heidegger's thought both by theologians in his own day (particularly in Barth and his school as well as neo-Scholasticism) and more recently (particularly in French phenomenology), and concludes by offering directions for theology's possible future engagement with Heidegger's work.
Here follows our interview with Dr Judith Wolfe:
T&T: What particular areas or themes of Theology interest you and why?
JW: I’m particularly interested in the ways theology opens for thinking about what the world is like, and what it is to be human. ‘If we claim this or that about God, what does that mean for our understanding of a good life, or free will, or our relationship to nature?’ And conversely, ‘if we pay close attention to human experience, what can it teach us about the possibility of knowing God?’ Theology in this sense cannot be strictly separated from what philosophers or literary scholars do; rather, it’s a way of pursuing the same questions with the freedom and the scholarly tools to take seriously the role that the question of God plays in those pursuits.
T&T: How would you describe your book in one sentence?
JW: What it says on the package: it aims to give readers a thorough understanding, based on the latest research, of Heidegger’s relationship to theology – in his life, in his thought & writings, and in the theological reception of his work.
T&T: When did you start researching for this book?
JW: I’ve been reading Heidegger and his theological friends and enemies for a long time, but began research for this book in earnest during a two-year visiting fellowship in Berlin from 2009 to 2011. The libraries of Humboldt University and the state collections, as well as the archives of Freiburg University, have wonderful resources which have never been used by English-speaking scholars, including Heidegger’s various correspondences and the Minutes of his faculty board meetings during the 1930’s and 40’s.
T&T: Which part of writing this book have you enjoyed most?
JW: One of the great things about working on Heidegger is that it involves both serious philosophical and theological questions and real biographical problems (such as the details of his ‘conversion’ from Roman Catholicism to Protestantism, or his relationship to Nazism). I love both detective work in archives and very abstract thought, so perhaps the most fun thing about writing this book was the chance to see what light they throw on each other.
T&T: Any tips for people reading the book?
JW: Having a big glass of gin and tonic to hand?
Other than that, perhaps it’s worth saying that the book is written with a few different audiences in mind. Readers with a general interest in philosophy and theology can read it simply as a coherent story, without having to pay attention to the scholarly apparatus. Students hoping to use it as a gateway to the field of Heidegger (or Heidegger and theology) will find useful pointers and references to other research, esp. in the endnotes. Those who are already experts in the field may want to pay closer attention to new evidence and interpretations; these are often kept implicit in the main text, but made explicit in the endnotes.
It may also be worth saying that though Heidegger’s Black Notebooks – the intellectual diary he kept from 1931 onwards – were not yet published when the book was written, I have now read them and am pleased how much they confirm my theories in the chapter on Heidegger’s Nazi years. For those interested in the subject, I’ve published a separate discussion of the Notebooks in the June 2014 issue of Standpoint Magazine, which is available to read online.
T&T: Where will your research go from here?
JW: There are several things I’d like to pursue from here: a wider exploration of the role that eschatological structures play in the thought of modern philosophers; a constructive theological account of eschatology, incorporating the things learnt from and through Heidegger and other philosophers; and – as part of my new job as a lecturer in Theology & the Arts at St Andrews – a conceptual analysis of the ‘theological imagination’, or the roles that the imagination inalienably plays in theological thought.
T&T: Thank you Dr Judith Wolfe. You can buy your copy of Heidegger and Theology here