A World-Renowned Center for the Study of Kierkegaard
The Hong Kierkegaard Library serves as the world’s official repository for books by and about Søren Kierkegaard, the 19th-century Danish theologian and philosopher widely regarded as the first existentialist. With a collection that includes some 19,000 volumes, it is the largest collection of writings by and about Kierkegaard outside of Denmark.
The work of nearly 95 percent of the world’s prominent Kierkegaard scholars has been informed by the Hong Kierkegaard Library. Every summer, around 50 scholars from around the globe come to the St. Olaf College campus to conduct research. The Hong Kierkegaard Library also hosts 20 seniors or recent graduates of undergraduate colleges and universities each July as part of the Young Scholars Program. And a Danish course is offered each summer, allowing scholars to examine sentences and smaller passages in Kierkegaard’s native language.
So how did St. Olaf come to house a world-renowned center for the study of Kierkegaard? The foundation of the library is built on the private collection of St. Olaf alumni Howard ’34 and Edna Hatlestad Hong ’38. Howard Hong taught in the college’s Philosophy Department for 40 years, and together the couple spent decades collecting an enormous body of literature by and about Kierkegaard. They became internationally celebrated for their work translating most of Kierkegaard’s published writings and journals from Danish into English, winning the National Book Award in 1968. The Hongs donated their collection to St. Olaf in 1976, and the Hong Kierkegaard Library was born.
The collection has remained far from stagnant since that initial donation, growing and improving ever since. In August of 2021, the Hong Kierkegaard Library received a grant of $10,000 from the National Endowment for the Humanities to aid in the restoration of 100 rare books housed in the collection that were printed prior to 1856.
St. Olaf Professor Emeritus of Philosophy Gordon Marino has served as the collection’s curator since 1995. He has published books about existentialism and articles in publications including the New York Times Magazine and Wall Street Journal. Thanks to a generous donation from Krestie Utech ‘59, the lower level of the library’s new space has been dedicated to Marino, who will retire in August 2022.
This spring St. Olaf named Anna Louise Strelis Söderquist the new curator of the Hong Kierkegaard Library. Söderquist earned her Ph.D. in philosophy from the New School for Social Research and has taught courses on Kierkegaard’s work around the world, including at the Søren Kierkegaard Research Centre in Copenhagen. In addition, she has presented at philosophy conferences on multiple continents, including the International Kierkegaard Conference held at St. Olaf.
“Kierkegaard’s work still has burning relevance for us today, wherever we live and whatever our backgrounds, for he meets his reader in the inner depths, where reside the personal, yet universal questions about who one is and how one ought to live,” she says.
Kierkegaard’s work still has burning relevance for us today, wherever we live and whatever our backgrounds, for he meets his reader in the inner depths, where reside the personal, yet universal questions about who one is and how one ought to live.Anna Louise Strelis Söderquist
When Söderquist arrives at St. Olaf to assume her role as curator, she will be joined by her husband, K. Brian Söderquist, who was appointed to the college’s new Kierkegaard Chair in Christian Philosophy. This professorship was established in 2021 to advance scholarship and publications concerning the writings of Kierkegaard and Christian philosophy.
Söderquist earned his Ph.D. from the Søren Kierkegaard Research Centre at the University of Copenhagen, and has been lecturing about Kierkegaard’s work in Denmark for more than two decades.
Read more about the newly renovated space that is home to the Hong Kierkegaard Library in the accompanying article in St. Olaf Magazine titled “The Storied History of Steensland Hall.”