Kierkegaard’s Existential Apophaticism

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This study begins by providing a survey of the scholarly literature on Kierkegaard’s apophaticism and identifying the two main approaches that have been taken. The first approach considers Kierkegaard’s apophaticism to have developed independently of classical apophatic theology, whereas the second approach locates Kierkegaard in the ‘Neoplatonist-Eckhartian’ tradition. The present article argues for the first approach by providing a survey of the apophatic motifs of Kierkegaard’s authorship organized around the notions of ‘objective apophaticism’ and ‘subjective apophaticism’. ‘Objective apophaticism’ denotes those passages in Kierkegaard’s works where God is considered to be hidden in and of himself. Apophaticism of this kind appears in Kierkegaard’s emphasis on God’s transcendence of existence, reason, and language by virtue of his ‘infinite qualitative difference’ from humankind. ‘Subjective apophaticism’ refers to the hiddenness of God that arises from human beings’ failure to relate to God properly. It is not only God’s transcendent nature that conceals God from human beings, but also the ‘existential misalignment’ of human beings. Such existential misalignment comes about through human beings misconceiving God and the kind of relationship they should sustain towards God. Much of the apophaticism of Kierkegaard’s authorship stems from exploring and attempting to correct this existential misalignment, for which reason the article concludes with the claim that the apophatic strand in Kierkegaard’s authorship is best categorized as ‘existential apophaticism’.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationOxford Handbook of Apophatic Theology
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherOxford University Press
Publication statusPublished - 2024


  • Kierkegaard
  • Apophatic theology
  • negative theology
  • Existentialism


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