Forming Humanity: Redeeming the German Bildung Tradition
Kant’s proclamation of humankind’s emergence from “self-incurred immaturity” left his contemporaries with a puzzle: What models should we use to sculpt ourselves if we no longer look to divine grace or received authorities? Deftly uncovering the roots of this question in Rhineland mysticism, Pietist introspection, and the rise of the bildungsroman, Jennifer A. Herdt reveals bildung, or ethical formation, as the key to post-Kantian thought. This was no simple process of secularization, in which human beings took responsibility for something they had earlier left in the hands of God. Rather, theorists of bildung, from Herder through Goethe to Hegel, championed human agency in self-determination while working out the social and political implications of our creation in the image of God. While bildung was invoked to justify racism and colonialism by stigmatizing those deemed resistant to self-cultivation, it also nourished ideals of dialogical encounter and mutual recognition. Herdt reveals how the project of forming humanity lives on in our ongoing efforts to grapple with this complicated legacy.
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