Open Access
Alessandri, Mary Ann
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
December 14, 2009
Committee Members:
  • Dr Shannon Sullivan, Dissertation Advisor
  • Shannon Wimberley Sullivan, Committee Chair
  • Daniel Joseph Conway, Committee Chair
  • John Philip Christman, Committee Member
  • Nicolas L Fernandez Medina, Committee Member
  • Brady Lee Bowman, Committee Member
  • Unamuno
  • Kierkegaard
My dissertation explores the philosophical kinship between the existentialist thinkers Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) and Miguel de Unamuno (1864-1936) in an attempt to resurrect an ethically religious way of life. In Kierkegaard’s writings one can find a description of a passionately committed way of life that is distinguishable from both his conception of ethics and his version of Christianity. He calls this form of ethical religion or religious ethics “Religiousness A,” but he fails to give a vivid illustration of it that definitively distinguishes it from ethics and Christianity. As a result, the scholarship on Religiousness A is impoverished, and what would otherwise amount to a promising new way of being religious in a secular world has been largely regarded as unimportant or simply a watered-down version of Christianity. Miguel de Unamuno (1864-1936) read the complete works of Kierkegaard in the original Danish, and he was largely responsible for introducing Kierkegaard to the Spanish-speaking world. Unamuno’s Quixotism, modeled after Miguel de Cervantes’ fictional hero Don Quixote, unites passion with commitment while emphasizing community, effectively combining the best aspects of both ethics and Christianity while rejecting their mythic incompatibility. In other words, Unamuno’s Quixotism is a vivid example of Kierkegaard’s Religiousness A. In short, Kierkegaard theoretically developed but did not describe Religiousness A, and Unamuno described but did not theoretically develop Quixotism. Given this state of affairs, my dissertation has two main goals: 1) to argue for the value of Religiousness A on the basis that it is a robust and attractive way of life that combines the passionate elements of Kierkegaard’s Christianity with the communally committed aspects of Kierkegaard’s ethics, and 2) to develop Unamuno’s Quixotism as a working model of Religiousness A in order to give flesh to the ways in which Religiousness A is neither ethics nor Christianity. My dissertation is comprised of four chapters: in the first, I give an overview of Kierkegaard’s ethics, concluding that in his pseudonymous works there is not just one but two portraits of ethics. This will be useful for assessing which portrait of religion presented in the next chapter is compatible with ethics. In chapter two I revive Religiousness A as it is described by Johannes Climacus in Concluding Unscientific Postscript (1846). After analyzing the other versions of religion that Kierkegaard provides (which I consider to be undesirable and unlivable), I make the case for the recovery of Religiousness A on the grounds that it is an ethical religion, but it is also a passionate religion. In chapter three I turn to Unamuno, whose descriptions of Quixotism in Vida de Don Quijote y Sancho (1905), Tragic Sense of Life (1913), and Manual de Quijotismo (1924-1931) are vivid if not theoretical, and I combine and analyze them in order to develop Quixotism as a robust religion instead of as a mere portrait. In chapter four I combine the language of Kierkegaard and Unamuno to show how Quixotism can be read as a concrete example of Religiousness A. Ultimately, I conclude that Kierkegaard’s Religiousness A, incarnated as it is in Unamuno’s Quixotism, is a desirable way of life, because it combines passion with commitment and community. In short, Unamuno’s underdeveloped Quixotism could be read as a prime example of Kierkegaard’s undervalued Religiousness A, and as such it can help us understand Religiousness A, which both points out the philosophical distinctions between ethics and religion, and still provides a vision of how they might be peacefully united.