Date of Award

Fall 2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Adam, Noel S.

Second Advisor

Jones, John D.

Third Advisor

Vandevelde, Pol G.

Fourth Advisor

Anderson, Thomas C.


This dissertation presents an in-depth investigation into the notion of paradox and its significance for Christian existence in the thought of the Danish philosopher and theologian Søren Kierkegaard. The primary aim of the study is to explore and to develop various expressions of paradox in Kierkegaard’s authorship in order to demonstrate the manner by which Kierkegaard employs paradox as a means of challenging his Christendom contemporaries to exist as authentic Christians, and more specifically to enter into the existential state I am identifying in this project as living within the sacred tension. With this aim in mind, I begin with a discussion of Kierkegaard’s ethico-religious task in response to his Christendom culture and I provide a broad characterization of the notion of sacred tension as the telos of this task. For the majority of the study I then focus on four different expressions of paradox in Kierkegaard’s thought. These four expressions are: paradox that is associated with the faith of Abraham (as presented in Fear and Trembling), paradox that is associated with the nature of the self and the task of selfhood (as presented in The Sickness unto Death), paradox that is associated with the God-man (as presented in Philosophical Fragments, Concluding Unscientific Postscript, and Practice in Christianity), and paradox that is associated with Christian love (as presented in Works of Love). In addition to arguing that Kierkegaard employs these expressions of paradox to help usher his contemporaries into a state of sacred tension, I also argue that such sacred tension can be understood in terms of various concrete Christian virtues. In this respect, I claim that Kierkegaard’s ethico-religious task is not merely negative or deconstructive in nature, but rather it is infused with the robust positive content associated with Kierkegaard’s particular understanding of Christianity. Viewing Kierkegaard’s thought and writings in this manner helps to reaffirm the significance of the notion of paradox in Kierkegaard’s thought and to highlight the value of the notion of sacred tension for a reassessment of both Kierkegaard’s existentialism and its contemporary implications.