The Greatest Lesson I’ve Learnt This Year

Kierkegaard on what constitutes true Christian scholarship

When its been a long time since last writing, perhaps the best way to begin again is by quoting the words of somebody else. The quotation below is by Søren Kierkegaard, a nineteenth-century philosopher. I have found great encouragement in his writing these past few months.

This particular excerpt is the opening paragraph of Kierkegaard’s preface to The Sickness Unto Death, published in 1849 under the pseudonym Anti-Climacus. I repost it here because it seems to perfectly express the greatest lesson that I have learnt over the last academic year, and I encourage any interested reader to read carefully. It goes like this:

The form of this exposition may strike many readers as odd: to them it would seem too rigorous to be edifying — and yet too edifying to have the rigour of scholarship. As to whether it is too edifying to be scholarly, I offer no opinion; but I deny that it is too rigorous to be edifying, and I would think it a fault if it were. It is one thing, to be sure, that not everyone will find it edifying, for not everyone is equipped to follow the argument; but the work itself, in its very nature, remains edifying. From a Christian perspective, everything — yes, everything — should serve to edify. The kind of scholarship that is not, in the end, edifying is, for that very reason, un-Christian. Every essentially Christian presentation must bear some resemblance to a teaching physician’s lecture beside the sick-bed; even if only those trained in medicine understand what the physician says, it must never be forgotten that he speaks beside the bed of the sick. It is just this concerned relationship to life (in contrast with scholarly detachment from life) that edifies; and a presentation of this kind is qualitatively different from the “disinterested,” “objective” scholarship whose ideal is so far from being the Christian ideal that in a Christian sense it is inhuman curiosity. The Christian ideal — though, to be sure, one sees little evidence of it in practice — is to risk unreservedly being oneself, an individual human being, this specific human being alone before God, alone in this enormous exertion and this enormous responsibility. All Christian scholarship, however rigorous its form, ought to be engaged with life; and what edifies is precisely the concern that is so engaged. A concerned engagement with life, with what a person actually is, is from a Christian perspective, the mark of serious scholarship. Where pride is taken in disinterested, objective knowledge, we have, not serious scholarship, but something frivilous and vain.

This quotation has given me much to think about, so much that I may come back to it again in future posts. Looking forwards to more writing in the future, here’s to being edifying and engaged with life.