The politics in religion : Keller's Sieben legenden and his political engagement




Stephan, David Alan

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



Gottfried Keller’s Sieben Legenden (1872) are, on the surface, a collection of moral fables appealing to a system of Christian ethics that is in accord with Church dogmatics. However, such a reading discounts how the origin of the texts spans various periods of Keller’s own life experiences, education and political activities. This project exposes the political elements involved in Keller’s strategic re-use of religious materials drawn from the Golden Legend, various prophetic books of the Bible, hagiography, and the German mystic Angelus Silesius in the Legenden and explores how he uses this cycle of short stories to question Church ethics, family morals and the political impulses of the nineteenth century -- both in his native Switzerland and in Germany --, including Swiss religious struggles and the founding of the German Empire in 1870. It is my contention that Keller’s political life prompted his writing of the Legenden and influenced the timing of their publication, and that critics' attempts to limit his use of religious diction to a response to Feuerbach greatly underestimate the popular resonance of religious tropes and figures as commentaries on political situations and ideologies. His careful juxtapositions of source materials from the Roman-Christian era's martyrologies with High Medieval stories of redemption lead to the famous "Tanzlegendchen," which suggests the absolute bankruptcy of all ideology.



LCSH Subject Headings