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For the love of Kierkegaard

By Claire Carlson '12
July 1, 2010

Anyone who thinks that Soren Kierkegaard's work isn't getting much attention nearly 150 years after his death only needed to stop by St. Olaf this week to see otherwise.

Soren Kierkegaard

More than 160 scholars, pastors, and those who are simply fans of the 19th-century Danish philosopher flocked to campus for what is widely believed to be the largest meeting of Kierkegaard scholars in history. The Sixth International Kierkegaard Conference drew attendees from all over the globe to examine "Why Kierkegaard Still Matters" and discuss issues of morality, religion, and philosophy.

St. Olaf hosts the conference largely because the college is home to the Howard and Edna Hong Kierkegaard Library, the most extensive collection of works by and about Kierkegaard outside of Denmark. For Kierkegaard Library Curator and St. Olaf Professor of Philosophy Gordon Marino, it's clear why Kierkegaard's work is still relevant in the modern age. "He speaks to real-life issues of anxiety, despair, self-deception, and faith," Marino says, emotions and issues that people struggle with as much today as they did in Kierkegaard's lifetime.

Conference scholars also noted that Kierkegaard's philosophy is appealing because it can help formulate answers to questions of how to better live one's life. "The works of Kierkegaard ... force you to contemplate things you don't normally contemplate," says David Pfeifer, a faculty member in the Philosophy Department of the Indiana University School of Liberal Arts. Pfeifer delivered a presentation at the conference titled Why I Still Read Kierkegaard.

Maria Binetti (center) of Conicet, Argentina, presents her paper during the Sixth International Kierkegaard Conference while St. Olaf faculty member Eric Lund (right) and another participant look on.

Other scholars are interested in comparing Kierkegaard's work and influence to that of other well-known philosophers. "It is interesting to think about which philosophers Kierkegaard thought about or studied, and what contribution he can make to our understanding of other thinkers like Hegel, Aristotle, and so forth," says Les Ballard, a doctoral degree candidate at Boston College who presided over several conference presentations.

The conference opened with a dinner that had more than 200 people in attendance, followed by a plenary lecture given by M. Jamie Ferreira, the Carolyn B. Barbour Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Virgina. Over the course of five days, 18 doctoral dissertations and 66 papers written by established scholars were presented and discussed. In the evening, activities ranged from workshops for pastors and Spanish translators, to a theatrical performance, to a remembrance of the late Howard Hong.

More than 19 countries — ranging from the Czech Republic to Japan to Argentina — were represented at the conference, and presentations included topics such as Kierkegaard and our "Need" for Speed, Kierkegaard and Mozart, and Kierkegaard's Call for Honesty. Over the course of the six international conferences, participants have forged friendships and connections, which Marino notes is one of the most important aspects of these gatherings.

Marino and Cynthia Lund, the assistant curator and special collections librarian of the Kierkegaard Library, organized the conference. The Seventh International Kierkegaard Conference will take place at St. Olaf in 2015.

The Hong Kierkegaard Library
The Hong Kierkegaard Libary's collection consists of approximately 11,000 volumes, which include multiple editions and translations of Kierkegaard's works, extensive secondary literature on Kierkegaard, as well as numerous works by related thinkers who influenced or were influenced by Kierkegaard. Each summer scholars travel from as far as France, Italy, Canada, Brazil, Mexico, and Portugal to study in the Kierkegaard Library.

Contact Kari VanDerVeen at 507-786-3970 or vanderve@stolaf.edu.