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How Romanticism re-imagined transcendence for an age of immanence


Early German Romanticism sought to respond to a comprehensive sense of spiritual crisis that characterised the late eighteenth century. The study demonstrates how the Romantics sought to  bring  together  the  new  post-Kantian  idealist  philosophy  with the inheritance of the realist Platonic-Christian tradition. With idealism they continued to champion the individual, while from Platonism they took the notion that all reality, including the self, participated in absolute being. This insight was expressed, not in the language of theology or philosophy, but through aesthetics, which recognised the potentiality of all creation, including artistic creation, to disclosed the divine. In explicating the religious vision of Romanticism, this study offers a new historical appreciation of the movement, and furthermore demonstrates its importance for our understanding of religion today.    



Hampton’s book is a very bold one but a very needed one.  It is an attempt at a comprehensive interpretation of Early German Romanticism, one that strives to recreate its central concerns and ideals and to do justice to them.  Hampton’s interpretation is an timely attempt to find the via media between the one-sided idealist and realist, transcendent and secular, interpretations of early romanticism.  It is one of the strengths of his interpretation that it puts Platonism in the very heart of Early German Romanticism, which is exactly where it belongs.  This is a very valuable contribution to the growing literature on the subject, one that avoids and corrects the trendy reductivist interpretations current today.  

—Frederick Beiser, University of Syracuse

This is an impressive achievement, which anchors its claims in a wealth of resources from and about early German Romanticism. Hampton's re-evaluation of the significance of the Romantic movement goes beyond the conflicting ideas of it as either a form of Fichtean idealism or of Spinozist pantheism. Instead, the movement is seen as engaged in a re-articulation of metaphysical and religious concerns through a synthesis of post-Kantian idealism and Platonic realism that gives a decisive role to art. The book offers a persuasively unorthodox presentation of one of the most remarkable moments of modern philosophical history, linking it to new ways of understanding religion in contemporary thought.

—Andrew Bowie, Royal Holloway, University of London

This splendid book brings together what belongs together. The early Romantic tradition cannot be understood without its Platonic roots. Hampton’s study takes up what German-language scholarship on the tradition has tended to neglect. The result is a book that is an eye-opening achievement which will become an essential resource for the study of religion and modernity.

—Jörg Lauster, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich

The persisting power and relevance of the Romantic vision in contemporary thought and culture should not be ignored. In this remarkable book, Hampton is able to draw upon some of the lesser known figures of German Romanticism to great effect. Adroit and accomplished, it is a far sighted and discerning work.

—Douglas Hedley, University of Cambridge 

Proceeding from the provocative claim that early German Romanticism was impelled by a 'need to create a new language for religion,' Alexander Hampton’s new study offers an original, erudite, and closely argued alternative to the established (and opposed) accounts of the movement in terms of Fichtean subjectivism or Spinozist monism. In Hampton’s interpretation, Romanticism sought neither to secularise religion in an immanent form nor to reassert old theological orthodoxies but rather to reconceive transcendence in the language of aesthetics and with the assistance of concepts from the Christian Platonist tradition. Not the least of the book’s virtues is its placement of Jacobi, Herder, and Karl Philipp Moritz—who, like the Romantics Friedrich Schlegel, Hölderlin, and Novalis, resist easy classification as philosophical or literary figures—firmly in the genealogy of early German Romanticism.

—Nicholas Halmi, University of Oxford


Deftly argued and wide-ranging, Hampton’s new book is a break-through in our understanding of what may well have been the most exciting fifteen years in German literary and intellectual history. The compelling readings of Herder, Moritz, Jacobi, Fichte, Schiller, Novalis, Schlegel, and Hölderlin, offered here are further enriched by the author’s impressive grasp of Romanticism’s philosophical and theological backstory. Hampton makes a compelling case for a Romantic dialectic circumscribed less by Spinoza and Fichte than by the participatory ontology of a Christian realism whose deep Platonic roots have long been under-appreciated. In tracing early Romanticism’s development of 'a new language of transcendence in an age that had come to think in terms of immanence,' Hampton has given us a startlingly original appraisal of a period when questions of transcendence were shaping, perhaps for the last time in European thought, the project of cultural and social self-understanding. 

—Thomas Pfau, Duke University


In this superb study, Alexander Hampton develops much further the radically new scholarly understanding of German Romanticism as a critically realist qualification of idealist concerns. He shows that it was nothing less than a novel, aesthetic and anti-totalising recovery of the Platonic Christian tradition. He has hereby transcended both post-Kantian and postmodern readings of this remarkable body of thought, whose relevance for today cannot be exaggerated. 

—Catherine Pickstock, University of Cambridge


“Hampton does a great service to the history of this period”

“lucid and multifaceted”

“chapters devoted to [Schlegel, Hölderlin and Novalis] are models of
clarity and interpretive insight”



This chapter describes the historical, philosophical and religious context from which Early German Romanticism emerges. It also addresses the challenge of the term 'Romanticism', defines Early German Romanticism, and outlines the study.




1. The Romantic Vocation      

Through a comparison of poems by Schiller and Hölderlin, this chapter introduces the metaphysical concept of participation (methexis), and the Romantic aim to re-introduce this concept. 


2. Realism, Idealism and the Transcendentals  

This chapter defines key terms relating to the metaphysical realism of the Romantic project: realism, idealism, transcendence, immanence, absolute. It then offers a historical contextualisation of these terms through an examination of the philosophical concept of the transcendentals.


3. Re-contextualising Romanticism: The Problem of Subjectivity

This chapter undertakes the task of re-contextualising Romanticism by considering the problematic, Kant-centred, subjectivist reading of the movement. Nineteenth century readers, such as Hegel, Goethe, Kierkegaard, and Benjamin are considered, as well as a number of contemporary scholars.


4. Re-contextualising Romanticism: The Question of Religion   

This chapter undertakes the task of re-contextualising Romanticism by considering the problematic secularising reading of the movement, as well as the challenge presented by the dominant figure of Schleiermacher.


5. The Immanent Absolute: Spinoza and Fichte 

This chapter considers the problem of the absolute in the final decades of the eighteenth century. In particular, it describes the influential positions presented by Spinoza’s substance monism and Fichte’s absolute ‘I’.


6. Jacobi and the Transcendence of the Absolute       

This chapter examines the thought of Jacobi in relation to Kant, Spinoza and Mendelssohn. It outlines his argument for the necessity of a transcendent ground to all thought, known not through reason, but faith.


7. Herder and the Immanent Presence of the Transcendent Absolute   

This chapter examines the thought of Herder, particularly in relation to his concept of Being, developed in dialogue with the philosophies of Spinoza and Kant. It outlines Herder’s re-articulation of the position of Spinoza in a way that would make it approachable for Moritz and the German Romantics.


8. Moritz and the Aesthetics of the Absolute   

This chapter introduces the lesser-known aesthetic and mythological writings of Moritz. Influenced by Herder and Goethe, Moritz developed a realist aesthetics that would be influential for the Romantics. 



9. Platonism and the Transcendent Absolute   

This chapter sets out the realist Platonic concepts that inform Romantic thought. The Platonic position provides an alternative transcendent absolute to the immanent proposals of Spinoza and Fichte.


10. Schlegel: The Poetic Search for an Unknown God    

This chapter describes how Schlegel’s concern with classical literature, and the concept of the beautiful, poesie and myth developed into his notion of romantic religion. The major works of his Romantic period writings are considered. 


11. Hölderlin: Becoming and Dissolution in the Absolute

This chapter describes Hölderlin’s concern with the loss of a language for the holy, and his belief that the poetic vocation is to develop a new one. It considers his poetical and theoretical writings, and the influence of Plato and Fichte upon them.


12. Novalis: The Desire to be at Home in the World      

In this chapter the development of Novalis’ (Hardenburg) religious thought is described. It considers the thought of Spinoza, Fichte and Plotinus in relation to the development of his Romantic output.




This chapter considers the dual religious legacy of the Romantic re-invention of religion: its call to build a new spiritual community, and its aesthetic individualisation of religion. 

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