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Figures & Movements: Kierkegaard - The Father of Existentialism




Admissions requirements

There are no prerequisites.


The purpose of Figures & Movements courses is to allow students to zoom in on a particular thinker or philosophical tradition. From year to year, the subtitle can shift as the course focuses on different figures and movements. In this particular offering, we will be reading and discussing several major works of the so-called “father of existentialism,” Søren Kierkegaard. Although it is somewhat anachronistic to refer to Kierkegaard in terms of existentialism, and debatable whether or not existentialism has room for Christianity and its metaphysical dogma, Kierkegaard is often described as the first existentialist. It is not difficult to understand why given that his attack on the complacent “herd” of 19th century Danish Christians emphasizes many of the themes that will become prominent in the work of later thinkers associated with existentialism. For example, death, anxiety, and despair will play major roles in attempting to shake people loose from the thoughtless “doing what one does” of the crowd; and, of course, the “leap” into an absurd and insufficiently justified way of life is a now familiar trope of existentialism. Putting all of this together, Kierkegaard argues that we need to be individualized, because Christian truth is not to be found in human social practices.

More than a century and a half after his death, Kierkegaard remains one of the most enigmatic and elusive thinkers in the history of European thought. His influence has been at once both pervasive and cryptic, shaping key philosophical and theological currents in ways that may not always be apparent, even to those who have been the conduits of Kierkegaardian themes. His legacy of unconventional, genre-busting, frequently pseudonymous, often unpublished texts, dripping with irony and as playful as they are melancholy, remains a rich and still largely untapped resource for contemporary thought. As Kierkegaard enters his third century, his full relevance, far from diminishing, is only beginning to come into view.

Course objectives


By the end of this course students should be able to:

  • Critically reflect on and examine both shared and diverse human experiences so that they can recognize the similarities and differences across cultures as well as historical periods.

  • Exhibit the analytic skills necessary to comprehend the relevance of the past to their understanding of the present, while becoming more familiar with the perspective of their own cultural assumptions and values.

  • Acquire a set of reading, writing, and discussion skills that allow them to engage texts and others in an informed and conscientious manner.


  • Become familiar with the major themes and arguments in Kierkegaard’s work.

  • Become well versed in strategies for finding meaning in the modern world.


Once available, timetables will be published in the e-Prospectus.

Mode of instruction

Each teaching week of the course will consist of two 2-hour interactive discussions on the weekly topic, with reading to be completed prior to the meeting. This course depends heavily on group discussion of significant primary texts. Each class will begin with the instructor introducing the key issues and readings for that day and offering an interpretation of the works being discussed. Students should join in the discussion at any time, asking questions, making suggestions, or making comparisons with other texts we have read. For each meeting, each student should mark out a short passage (1-3 sentences) from the day’s reading that especially stood out.


  • Participation and attentiveness in classroom discussions is worth 18% of the overall course grade. This will be assessed throughout the course, and is meant to encourage constructive and active engagement with course materials and fellow students.

  • A 300-word reflection will be due in four different weeks, and each will be worth 6% of the overall course grade (totaling 24%). These will help to assess the capacity to articulate questions, concepts, and arguments based on individual engagement with course readings.

  • One in-class “midterm” short answer and/or essay exam will be worth 18% of the overall course grade. This will encourage a clear comprehension of objective course content.

  • One final paper (due during reading week) will be worth 40% of the overall course grade. This will encourage analysis of concepts covered throughout the course, and force students to express their ideas clearly and organize them coherently.


There will be a Blackboard site available for this course. Students will be enrolled at least one week before the start of classes.

Reading list


  • Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling and Repetition, H. V. Hong and E. H. Hong (trans), Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1983.

  • Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments and Johannes Climacus, H. V. Hong and E. H. Hong (trans), Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1985.

  • Kierkegaard, The Sickness unto Death, H. V. Hong and E. H. Hong (trans), Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1980.

  • Others available online


  • The Kierkegaardian Mind. Edited with an introduction by Adam Buben, Eleanor Helms, and Patrick Stokes (London: Routledge, 2019)

  • Buben, Meaning and Mortality in Kierkegaard and Heidegger: Origins of the Existential Philosophy of Death (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2016)

  • Kierkegaard and Death. Edited with an introduction by Patrick Stokes and Adam Buben (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2011)


This course is open to LUC students and LUC exchange students. Registration is coordinated by the Education Coordinator. Interested non-LUC students should contact

ph. 0708009469


No reading is required prior to the first meeting.