Can Culture Replace God?
The nineteenth century saw the waning of religious belief on an unprecedented scale. Hegel, Nietzsche, and others described this as the 'death of God' and took it to be a signal crisis of modernity. In this panel discussion, we discuss one kind of response to this spiritual collapse that gets presented by the German Romantics and later by Wagner. They put forward art as a way of filling the gap left behind. The German Romantics sought, through poetry especially, to create a new mythology that would provide succor and direction in an increasingly secular age. As Richard Wagner put things a generation after the Romantics: 'One might say that where religion becomes artificial, it is reserved for art to save the spirit of religion by recognizing the figurative value of the mythic symbols...revealing their deep and hidden truth through an ideal presentation.' While the heyday of these nineteenth-century ideas has come and gone, their echo continues, often unrecognized. Many secular people seek tremendous existential meaning and value in art. Can culture ever hope, for such people, to fill this ambitious role that God once did?
- Dr. Ankur Barua (Lecturer in Hindu Studies, Faculty of Divinity, Cambridge University)
- Dr. Katerina Deligiorgi (Reader in Philosophy, University of Sussex)
- Mr. Harry Eyres (Author and Journalist)
- Dr. Stephen Plant (Faculty of Divinity, Cambridge University)
- Dr. Charles Saumarez Smith (Director, The Royal Academy)
This event is supported by the Birkeck Institute for the Humanities, which promotes new ideas and forms of understanding in the humanities and the Department of Philosophy, Birkbeck, University of London.