St. Olaf College | News

St. Olaf will celebrate two centuries of Kierkegaard in scholarly style

Books line the shelves of the Howard and Edna Hong Kierkegaard Library at St. Olaf, which features the largest collection of works by and about Soren Kierkegaard outside of Denmark.

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard.

And St. Olaf College, which is home to the largest collection of works by and about Kierkegaard outside of Denmark, is preparing to celebrate in style.

The college will host one of the largest celebratory conferences around the globe June 23-27. St. Olaf, which houses the Howard and Edna Hong Kierkegaard Library, will use the Seventh International Kierkegaard Conference to honor the existentialist.

“I thought this would be quite small because of so many competing conferences this year,” says St. Olaf Professor of Philosophy and Kierkegaard Library Curator Gordon Marino, who wrote a piece honoring Kierkegaard that was published in the New York Times global edition. “It turns out that it will be an enormous conference, with around 70 paper presentations and attendees from more than a dozen countries.”

The conference will feature a cast of impressive Kierkegaard scholars. The keynote speaker will be Bruce Kirmmse, a renowned Kierkegaard scholar who is currently stationed at the Soren Kierkegaard Research Center at the University of Copenhagen.

This year’s conference could even top the one at St. Olaf three years ago that is widely believed to have been the largest gathering of Kierkegaard scholars in history.

The conference attendees are not the only ones who will be spending time with Kierkegaard at St. Olaf this summer. Around 50 scholars visit the library each summer to conduct research. The library also hosts the participants of the Young Scholars Program, which meets in July and brings together more than 20 undergraduate seniors and recent graduates for a month to study the famous philosopher.

The number of scholars and students who visit the library each year is a testament to its success. “Most people are surprised to find a collection of this caliber at an undergraduate institution,” says Marino. “We have people coming from Denmark to do research because we have such good access to very rare volumes. Here everything is on the shelf.”

The library began with a donation from Howard and Edna Hong’s private collection in 1976. The Hongs fostered a passionate interest in the works of Soren Kierkegaard and over the years devoted themselves to the task of providing a new English translation of the philosopher’s writings.

“That’s what Howard really wanted,” says Marino. “To have the library be really accessible to people who are interested.”

Watch this video of the conference’s first lecture: