The Hagiography of a Secular Saint: Alexander von Humboldt and the Scientism of the German Democratic Republic
AuthorHowell, James F.
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CitationHowell, J. F. (2018), The Hagiography of a Secular Saint: Alexander von Humboldt and the Scientism of the German Democratic Republic. The German Quarterly, 91: 67-82. doi:10.1111/gequ.12059
Rights© 2018, American Association of Teachers of German
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AbstractThroughout its existence, the German Democratic Republic attempted to supplant religious authority and beliefs by promoting a wissenschaftliche Weltanschauung that served as a secular alternative for metaphysical frameworks of understanding and cultural orientation. An integral part of this program of substitution was the Marxist‐Leninist rehabilitation of certain members of the German canon who best embodied the socialist and scientistic potential of the German cultural tradition. As a figure who stood at the forefront of this group, Alexander von Humboldt was reimagined by the East German cultural apparatus as a “spontaneous materialist,” an educator of the masses who fought on the side of the oppressed worldwide. This analysis elucidates the ways in which the East German cultural apparatus appropriated and reconfigured Humboldt to fit its needs, as well as how, more generally, the SED designed and implemented a scientistic worldview that continues to affect and shape culture in eastern Germany today.
Note24 month embargo; published online: 1 February 2018
VersionFinal accepted manuscript