Conference: Paul Tillich Today – The Two Roots of Political Thinking (introduction)


The New Library, Llantwit Major, Wales in association with Bath Spa University, Cardiff University and the University of Cambridge Centre for the Study of Platonism

Paul Tillich Today – The Two Roots of Political Thinking (introduction)

12th – 14th October 2022


Paul Tillich (1886-1965) was an early critic of the German Nazi movement, most notably in his 1933 publication, Die Socialistiche Entscheidung (The Socialist Decision). The book was banned and Tillich was barred from working in German Universities. Tillich then left Germany for America and although he went on to become one of the most significant theologians and philosophers of the 20th century this text that led to his expulsion did not appear in English translation until 1977.

The book opens with a dense introductory ten pages entitled ‘The Two Roots of Political Thought’ that offer profound analysis of the philosophical and ontological roots of the human condition and how these give rise to ambiguity in human experience, culture, relationships and politics. It delivers a powerful framing of the relationships between socialism, Marxism, progressive, conservative, and capitalist positions grounded in terms of myths of origin. Tillich outlines an extraordinarily lucid account of the roots of fascism, setting the human predicament as a crisis in which we are torn between the myth of where we have come from and its entitlements and the demands of what we should be. Tillich solves the crisis with the same language of philosophy in which he set out the problem, showing the human necessity for recognizing the crisis and for making a decision to act for justice. Although the language of theology is not explicit in these introductory ten pages the whole text moves with a profound undertow in ways that reflect Tillich’s later mature theological system.

Once he had left Germany, Tillich did not return to explicit political writing and this 1933 analysis of fascism and its relation to social, democratic and conservative thought is largely unknown. With brittle and shallow popularism now prevalent and influential in the political culture of the 21st century, this conference seeks to open up Tillich’s offer to contemporary society. We welcome papers that engage with ‘The Two Roots of Political Thought’ from perspectives from politics, epistemology, psychology, philosophy, theology and education. Interdisciplinary approaches are welcome as we seek to relate Tillich’s analysis of his political situation to our own times.

We particularly encourage explorations that engage the following themes:

  • The context and content of Tillich’s early political thought
  • Tillich’s writings in relation to other works in early twentieth-century ‘religious socialism’
  • Tillich’s analysis of the ‘two roots’ in relation to the political theology and philosophy of Schmitt and Heidegger
  • The influence of Tillich’s political thought on existentialism and critical theory (notably the Frankfurt School)
  • The relation of Tillich’s early political thought to his later theological and philosophical work
  • The relevance of Tillich’s analysis to the twenty-first century situation, in particular the understanding of and resistance to Fascism
  • The influences of Tillich’s thought expressed in Welsh culture

The intellectual defence of Anglo-Saxon civilisation against fascist ideologies is extremely weak. Common-sense philosophy and pragmatism are not able to provide criteria against the dynamic irrationalism of the new movements; and they are not able to awaken the moral power of resistance necessary for the maintenance of the humanistic values embodied in Western and Anglo-Saxon civilisation.

Paul Tillich, Morality and Beyond, 1963

The conference will be held at The New Library, Llantwit Major, Wales. Britain’s first theological college was established here 1500 years ago; the New Library continues that Celtic tradition of scholarship and community in this place today: New Library

This academic conference Paul Tillich Today – The Two Roots of Political Thinking (introduction) will form part of a larger cultural event in Autumn/Winter 2022 exploring the relevance and offer of Tillich’s political thinking and analysis to contemporary Welsh culture.

Dr Russell Re Manning:,

Richard Parry:

Dr Huw Williams:

Conference Registration: £180

(image: Chris Glynn)

More projects...