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Theology as Performance Music, Aesthetics, and God in Modern Theology by Philip E. Stoltzfus

Theology as Performance Music, Aesthetics, and God in Modern Theology


Theology as Performance Music, Aesthetics, and God in Modern Theology by Philip E. Stoltzfus

Theology as Performance breaks new ground in the growing conversation between modern theology and philosophical aesthetics. Stoltzfus proposes that significant moments in the Western development of the concept of God, in particular as represented in the figures of Friedrich Schleiermacher, Karl Barth, and Ludwig Wittgenstein, have been deeply influenced by concepts and approaches borrowed from the discipline of musical aesthetics. Each thinker develops fundamentally different ways of writing about God that have in significant respects been derived from each one's reading and writing about music. The aesthetic implications of Schleiermacher's so-called subjectivist turn, Barth's objectivist reaction, and Wittgenstein's language-game pragmatism can thus be fully understood only by attending to the musical culture and distinctly musicological discourses that gave rise to them. Stoltzfus constructs two trajectories of thought with which to trace theological reflection upon music throughout the pre-modern period: the traditions of Orpheus and Pythagoras. Schleiermacher's aesthetic approach, then, becomes a modern representative of the Orpheus trajectory, and Barth's approach a representative of the Pythagoras trajectory. Stoltzfus interprets Wittgenstein as putting forward a radical critique of these trajectories and pointing toward a third, performative theological-aesthetic method. Theology as Performance offers a provocative rethinking of the aesthetic roots of modern theology.


In this sharp counterpart exercise comparing the musical sensibility and theological affirmations of Schleiermacher and Barth musician-theologian Stoltzfus cleverly opens un-traveled avenues of reflection, aptly throwing in philosophical contributions from the late Wittgenstein that represents a more 'postmodern
temper. In doing so, he helpfully emphasizes the performance aspect of theology, placed in ample historical perspective, and enlists numerous conversation partners. The work itself amounts to a virtuoso National Public Radio

'St. Paul Sunday'
ensemble performance

! Terrence N. Tice, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy, University of Michigan--Sanford Lakoff In this ambitious and exceptionally well-researched book, Philip Stoltzfus makes an important contribution to the growing body of theological reflection on music and it relationship to the theological enterprise...He provides possibly the most extensive discussion in print of the role of music in the theology and religious thought of three figures: Friedrich Schleiermacher, Karl Barth, and Ludwig Wittgenstein. -Frank Burch Brown, Journal of Religion, July 2008

About the Author

Philip E. Stolzfus isAssistant Professor of Religion, St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota.

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Book Info

Publication date

5th June 2006


Philip E. Stoltzfus

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T.& T.Clark Ltd an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing PLC


298 pages


Christian life & practice
Theory of music & musicology
Philosophy: aesthetics
Religious life & practice



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