If you want to support research on Karl Barth’s sole visit to the United States in 1962, please consider supporting Jessica DeCou’s Kickstarter Project A Fantastic Affair: Karl Barth in America 1962
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Project Summary (taken from A Fantastic Affair: Karl Barth in America 1962)
Karl Barth has been described as “the greatest theologian of the 20th century” (though he renounced any claim to that title), and yet his 1962 visit to the U.S. has never been chronicled in detail, despite the legends and lore that surround his seven weeks here.
While Barth was a frequent critic of American culture and politics, his arrival was met with a degree of media fanfare unimaginable for a theologian today. Announcement of his travel plans brought a flood of requests for lectures, public appearances, personal meetings, and television interviews. He was the subject of several national news features, appearing on the cover of Time Magazine. His lectures at Chicago and Princeton drew thousands of attendees, and a small entourage was needed to escort him past the throngs of autograph seekers and reporters.
Though he received the heaviest media coverage for his damning remarks on U.S. prison conditions, Barth traveled to the U.S. not to criticize American culture but “simply to listen and observe,” embarking on sight-seeing excursions from the Golden Gate Bridge to Chicago’s night clubs to Broadway and the Statue of Liberty. And Barth’s determined efforts to understand this tumultuous moment in American history are evident in his tours of prisons and inner city neighborhoods; his encounters with diplomats, civil rights advocates, and religious leaders such as Arthur Schlesinger, Frank Porter Graham, Martin Luther King, Anna Arnold Hedgeman, William Stringfellow, and Billy Graham; as well as in his meetings with businessmen, actors, comedians, scientists, and historians.
“A Fantastic Affair” will therefore offer both scholars and general audiences a novel perspective on America’s past, seeing it afresh through the eyes of a first time visitor who crossed paths with some of our most renowned cultural icons. As Barth wrote just days before his arrival, “perhaps the experience my American friends and foes will have with me will be that of putting a little child in their midst.”
In sum, tracing Barth’s personal and professional activities over these seven weeks offers an intriguing lens through which to explore the changing landscape of religion in American culture over the past 50 years, including:
- religion and the news media
- theology in the academy
- civil rights
- criminal justice and prison reform
- ethics, politics, policy, and intelligence strategy
- collective bargaining
- religion in popular culture
- Barth’s suggestions for American theology and their relevance post-9/11
On November 9, 2012, an interesting symposium called “Dialektisch-theologischer Sozialismus. Karl Barths Theologie zur Zeit des Ersten Weltkriegs“ (Dialectic Theological Socialism: Karl Barth’s Theology during World War I) focusing on the early Karl Barth was held at the University of Basel (Switzerland). Its primary goals were to present the new volume of the Collected Edition (Gesamtausgabe) to an interested public, to honor its editor, Dr. Hans-Anton Drewes, who retired as director of the Karl Barth-Archive in Basel just a few months ago, and to discuss different interpretations of the edited lectures and short works of the years 1914-1921. The symposium was organized by Georg Pfleiderer, Professor of Systematic Theology (Ethics) in Basel.
Hans-Anton Drewes delivered the first lecture. He surprised the audience by beginning his speech in Latin and continued by presenting some interesting thoughts about the content of the volume. Drewes has worked as director of the Karl Barth-Archive for 14 years and greatly contributed to the Collected Edition.
Regina Wecker, former Professor of Gender History in Basel, provided information about the historical context in Switzerland from 1914 – 1921. It was a troubled time between the Landesausstellung (national exhibition) in 1914, the general strike in 1918, and World War I.
Andreas Pangritz, Professor of Systematic Theology in Bonn, a theologian strongly influenced by Friedrich Wilhelm Marquardt, presented his opinion on the connection of Christianity and socialism in the works of the early Karl Barth. Marquardt, who is famous for his book “Theologie und Sozialismus. Das Beispiel Karl Barth” (Theology and Socialism: The Example of Karl Barth), had worked on many of the texts that have now been published. He also contributed some of the introduction texts in the new volume. Marquardt died in 2002.
After a lunch break, Georg Pfleiderer commented on the volume in a highly dedicated speech, describing the theology of the early Karl Barth as “kulturkritischer Idealismus” (cultural critique idealism).
Bruce McCormack, Charles Hodge Professor of Systematic Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary, delivered his lecture on the eschatological motives in the work of the early Karl Barth. Amongst other things, it was fascinating to have Karl Barth’s opinions compared to the positions in contemporary exegetical research on Paul’s Letter to the Romans.
After McCormack, South African theologian Dirk J. Smit, Professor of Systematic Theology (Dogmatics) in Stellenbosch, South Africa, provided interesting insights about reading Barth’s works and referred to “Barth” in South African theological discussions.
The symposium was completed by a lecture of the famous German author Martin Walser, who read out fascinating passages of his essay “Über Rechtfertigung. Eine Versuchung” and his novel “Das dreizehnte Kapitel”. In both of them, he also writes about Karl Barth.
Exactly 100 years after Karl Barth’s move to Safenwil, his Safenwil period is still a very interesting research topic. The symposium in Basel made this absolutely clear.
After a long anticipation, the new volume of the Karl Barth-Gesamtausgabe (Collected Edition) has been published in October 2012 by Theologischer Verlag Zürich. The volume titled „Vorträge und kleinere Arbeiten 1914 – 1921“ contains 63 lectures and short works written by Karl Barth, 42 of which have not been published yet.
The volume was edited by Hans-Anton Drewes, former director of the Karl Barth Archive in Basel, in cooperation with Friedrich-Wilhelm Marquardt. Introductions, comments and critical notes have been added to the texts.
The 48th volume of the Gesamtausgabe enables a new view on an important period of Karl Barth’s biography. The theological development of Karl Barth as a politically active pastor in Safenwil is impressively documented in the texts.
A symposium focusing on the book will be held in Basel on November 9, 2012. For more information, see “Upcoming Events”.
The 43rd international Karl Barth conference in Leuenberg, Switzerland
Karl Barth probably never imagined that 44 years after his death, 120 women and men would travel to a conference to study excerpts from his works and to discuss its potential implications for today’s mission of the church.
The 43rd international Karl Barth conference gathered students, university lecturers and other people interested in theology in the idyllic conference center on mount Leuenberg, near Basel, Switzerland. The majority of participants came from Germany, but there were also about 30 Swiss, showing that the prophet is, in fact, still honored in his own country. Other participants had arrived from the Netherlands, other European countries or even as far as Japan and the United States.
Professor Günter Thomas from the University of Bochum, Germany, in his opening speech, stated that even though Barth had written relatively little about the world mission, he left a lasting impact on it. Barth discovered that the God, who is alive, is communicative and acts by reaching out to the people and by freeing them to attest his love through words and acts. The purpose cannot be to convert “nonbelievers” and to save them from misery. God himself, in Jesus Christ, has contributed enough to the reconciliation between God and mankind. Christians should live off this liberating truth, and as joyous and fearless witnesses advocate it in the middle of world happenings.
Mission theologian Darrell Guder from Princeton, New Jersey, showed how Barth’s theology, in ecumenical discussions, helped churches to perform their mission in the world. The church bears witness to its given freedom not by caring about itself, but by caring for others. Therefore, we can say, “Mission possible!” Especially in secular societies, we can observe new and encouraging departures. Benedikt Schubert, pastor with a university teaching position in mission and ecumenical theology in Basel, showed how this holds also true in Switzerland. New forms of community living are leading to openness for others, and in places where the church is venturing encounters with strangers it is experiencing liberation itself.
In the words of Paulus to the Thessalonicher (1.Th.2,8), Schubert finds the understanding of mission that fits our time: “Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us.”
Professor Volker Küster (Universities of Kampen and Mainz) called his presentation „Yes! – Intercultural theological existence today.” Very meaningful, he demonstrated how encounters with other cultures and religions are opening new dimensions of belief worldwide, hoping that this were recognized more strongly in Europe.
The conference offered the opportunity of getting to know Peter Zocher, Ph.D, the new director of the Karl Barth Archive in Basel and successor of Hans-Anton Drewes, Ph.D.
His research focus is lying on the more recent church history, on which he presented on in the evening with the controversial topic of “Handshake with Stalinism? Karl Barth during the Cold War.”
Zocher carefully and critically presented Barth’s position in the context at that time, focusing on the open letter Barth sent to a pastor in the DDR (German Democratic Republic). In connection with the topic of mission, Barth’s basic principle that the church should never identify itself with a political system, so far that it cannot any longer communicate with people living under different regimes, still remains important. The benchmark of credible positions in such areas of conflict is not only verbal protest, but also the question what our position is meaning for victims of tyranny, and whether we are showing solidarity with them through words and acts.
In addition to presentations and discussions, breakout sessions were an important part of the Karl Barth conference. These sessions discussed sections from the Church Dogmatics, presentations and other writings, and they also brought up topics that require new reflections. An example of such a topic is the relation to Israel and the Jews, but also to other religions. No return to dead ends, but we should tackle the challenges of recent history and the presence with evangelical freedom and clarity, for which Karl Barth’s biblically founded theology offers enough food for thought and motivation.
(article contributed by Dieter Zellweger, president of the Karl Barth Legacy Commission)