Brandon Joa ’18
I’m a junior from San Francisco, CA focusing on religion and critical thought within the Religion department. In addition to being part of the Humanistic Studies certificate program, I’ve had an interest in the natural sciences at Princeton since I’m also planning on matriculating into medical school. My academic interests include Scholastic and existentialist theology, ethics, and studying missionary activity. On campus, I enjoy singing in the chapel choir and training in the taekwondo club, and I’m also the current president of the Elizabeth Anscombe Society. I also enjoy hiking and have been an Outdoor Action leader here at Princeton.
“Trained Foolishness: Walter Lowrie’s Response to Kierkegaardian Offense”
This research paper considers the motivations behind the translation of Kierkegaard into English, evaluating whether his first English translator’s approach is consistent with a commitment to Kierkegaard’s ideas.
The Christian existentialist Søren Kierkegaard posits faith as the individual’s response to the offense of God appearing directly before him or herself as another particular individual, who is the person of Jesus. Developing this concept of offense starting in the 1843 Fear and Trembling to its completion in the later Training in Christianity, Kierkegaard begins by explaining how faith requires that the individual supersede society and universal ethics to act directly before God. Practically, this means suffering and becoming an object of scorn in order to serve the same people who will mock the person of faith; the faithful must suffer as Jesus suffered. Walter Lowrie, the first English translator of many of Kierkegaard’s works, interprets Kierkegaard’s attack on the state Church at the end of his life as the fulfillment of his own requirement to embody offense. As a pastor and teacher, however, Lowrie belongs to the group Kierkegaard criticizes most, so how does he deal with the requirement of embodying offense? Lowrie attempts to do so through several goals present in his translations: first, he writes “poetically” to celebrate how Kierkegaard’s life is commensurate with his ideas; next, although they are might be literarily distasteful, his notes remove Kierkegaard’s subtlety to reveal the offense hidden in all of Kierkegaard’s writings that the author had attempted to transmit indirectly; and finally, he takes upon himself risks and financial burden to spread Kierkegaard’s ideas while working for the unity of the Church. Lowrie’s private papers in the manuscripts division at Princeton’s Firestone Library include the account of how Lowrie became interested in Kierkegaard and the steps he took to transmit his writing to the English world. This paper elucidates Lowrie’s response through analysis of his papers, correspondence, and translation notes in relation to Kierkegaard’s writing in the two above-mentioned works. I argue that Lowrie’s actions and intellectual response are consistent with the idea of offense (acting directly before God, and thus suffering in the service of others), though the degree to which they are taken is insufficient to constitute actual suffering.
Kierkegaard writes that the distinction between “admirers” and “disciples” is the extent to which someone will go in following one’s teacher. It is inconsistent to be a mere admirer of either Kierkegaard or Christianity because of the claims they make on their hearers. Kierkegaard repudiates admirers for their aloofness, so Lowrie attempts to be an actual follower of Christ through his sacrifices in time and money to reveal the Christianity in Kierkegaard’s work. Ultimately these sacrifices are not as great as the urgency of Kierkegaard’s message calls for. Still, Kierkegaard would have been glad to find, as he predicted, a fellow “poet” and “lover” willing to eulogize him for his religious writings. More broadly, Lowrie’s response is a potential answer to the question of how an academic committed to the radical teachings of Christ can be offensive in the way Kierkegaard describes while making the best use of his or her talents and teaching position.