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Kierkegaard, Religion, and Culture Unit

Call for Proposals

Kierkegaard, the Problem of Patriarchy and Related Social Ills

Sarah Grimké, a 19th-century American feminist and contemporary of Kierkegaard, astutely noted that patriarchy, particularly as the rule of white males in Western Christendom, sat at the intersection of an array of social ills in the United States, not simply at the heart of relationships between men and women. As she advocated for the immediate abolition of slavery, she soon learned that the same power that had its “foot on the necks” of white women, including ones from wealthy families like hers, also had its “foot on the necks” of enslaved and free black men, women and children, as well as male and female laborers of all ethnicities.

In Works of Love, Kierkegaard seems to have understood this dynamic as well, at least to some degree. He criticizes the abuse of power characteristic of Christendom's patriarchal culture, both broadly in terms of the powerful dominating the weak, and specifically in terms of the relationship between men and women. Kierkegaard bases his analysis of such "misrelations," to use his pseudonym Anti-Climacus' term from another text, on a critique of individuals divinizing themselves and their interests at the expense of others and on a philosophy and theology of selfhood stressing the authenticity and integrity of the individual "before God."

Whether explicitly religious or not, a wide variety of 20th-century thinkers critically engaged Kierkegaard's emphasis upon the authenticity of the individual as they grappled with the injustices of Christendom's traditional institutions and discourses. This includes, but is not limited to, Simone de Beauvoir, Frantz Fanon, Hannah Arendt, Richard Wright, Cornel West, and Judith Butler. Like these figures, recent scholars in political theology have continued this critical engagement with Kierkegaard by offering new interpretations and applications of his thought.

Other scholars of the 20th- and 21st-centuries, however, have not been so sanguine about the anti-patriarchal and more broadly egalitarian dynamic in Kierkegaard’s works. They have interpreted him as patriarchal himself, as well as misogynistic, anti-Semitic, and elitist or classist---all problems that connect him to the power structures he purportedly critiques. Given some of his own remarks, these interpretations are not without justification. Indeed, feminist Kierkegaard scholars, many of whom are mostly positive about the Dane, have long taken him to task for his views on women.

To what extent, then, can Kierkegaard illuminate and help to correct the problems of patriarchy and related forms of oppression, if he was in any sense a proponent of, as well as a beneficiary of such power structures? How can Kierkegaard help us to identify, analyze, confront and combat patriarchy and the injustices produced by related power structures, such as sexism, racism, classism, and other social ills, if he was himself guilty of some of these offenses? Is there something unique in Kierkegaard’s thought that can still contribute to the critique of patriarchy and its cognates, in spite of his embroilment in them? What are the limits of Kierkegaard’s ability to function as a legitimate resource for creating a less patriarchal and power imbalanced society?

We invite papers that engage these questions from a variety perspectives and approaches.

Statement of Purpose

This Unit seeks to explore the significance of the religious thought and ethics of Kierkegaard for contemporary culture in its various aspects — social, political, ecclesiastical, theological, philosophical, and aesthetic.


Steering Committee Members



Review Process

Proposer names are visible to chairs but anonymous to steering committee members

Review Process Comments

Committee members do not know the identities of the chosen presenters until the program is settled and provided to the AAR.