Paul Tillich

The German-born Paul Tillich was an ordained minister who is known today for his work in the U.S. as one of the most influential Protestant systematic theologians of the early- to mid-twentieth century. He studied at the Universities of Berlin, Tübingen, Halle, and Breslau (where he was awarded his Ph.D. in 1910), and served as an army chaplain during Word War I. Subsequent to that, Tillich held university appointments in Berlin, Marburg, Dresden, and Frankfurt, though his position was terminated by the Nazi government in early 1933. By that Fall, Tillich had been invited to travel to the US to hold an appointment at Union Theological Seminary, in New York. Eventually, he also held appointments at Harvard University as well as the University of Chicago's Divinity School. Tillich's fame is the result of his efforts to create a theological system that took into account a series of early- and mid-twentieth-century intellectual currents, including the influence of European Existentialism, the growing awareness, and thus interest, in cultures outside the Euro-North Ameircan world, as well as an interest in reconsidering the long-assumed split between religion and contemporary culture. Like many who have put their stamp on the field, he delivered the Gifford Lectures (at Scotland's University of Aberdeen), which resulted in one of the works for which he is best known today: the 3 volume Systematic Theology (an effort to present a complete and coherent theological system). Tillich's normative scholarship (his interest in articulating the "truth" and the "meaning" of the Christian witness) distinguishes him from the modern study of religion, as does his attempt to define religion, which employs the common strategy of lodging religion within the individual by equating it with vague, subjective value judgments. Nonetheless, given the historical development of the academic study of religion from largely (Protestant) Christian theological concerns, Tillich can be seen as a transitional figure whose interest in contemporary culture, whose willingness to work with Historians of Religions, and whose efforts to understand religion "in a wider sense," as he phrased it, prompted a generation of humanistic scholars to expand their interests to include cross-cultural analysis of religious symbols.

Major Works

The Interpretation of History (1926; English translation 1936)

The Protestant Era (1931; English translation 1948)

Systematic Theology
(1951-1963; 3 vols.)

The Courage to Be

Dynamics of Faith

Christianity and the Encounter of the World Religions (1963)

The Future of Religion


"Faith is a concept--and a reality--which is difficult to grasp and to describe. Almost every word by which faith has been described ... is open to new misinterpretations. This cannot be otherwise, since faith is not a phenomenon besides others, but the central phenomenon in man's personal life, manifest and hidden at the same time. Faith is an essential possibility in man, and therefore its existence is necessary and universal.... If faith is understood for what it centrally is, ultimate concern, it cannot be undercut by modern science or any kind of philosophy.... Faith stands upon itself and justifies itself against those who attack it, because they can attack it only in the name of another faith. It is the triumph of the dynamics of faith that any denial of faith is itself an expression of faith, of an ultimate concern."

- from Paul Tillich, Dynamics of Faith (1957)

Select Web Resources on Tillich

A collection of web resources on Paul Tillich

Christianity and the Encounter of the World Religions, by Paul Tillich

The Boston Collaborative Encyclopedia of Modern Western Theology entry on Paul Tillich

A collection of articles by, and about the work and influence of, Paul Tillich at www.religion-online.org

Secondary Literature on Tillich and Religion

Wilhelm Pauck and Marion Pauck, Paul Tillich: His Life and Thought. Harper & Row, 1976.

Walter Capps, Religious Studies: The Making of a Discipline, pp. 30-5. Fortress Press, 1995.

Robert P. Scharleman, "Tillich, Paul," The Encyclopedia of Religion, 2nd edition. vol. 13, pp. 9203-5. Macmillan Reference USA, 2005.

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