Prof. Dr. Otto Kallscheuer

Università degli Studi di Sassari

Curriculum Vitae

Otto Kallscheuer studied Philosophy, Sociology and History in Bonn, Bochum and Berlin. In 1985, he obtained his doctorate degree in Philosophy at the University of Frankfurt and completed his habilitation in Political Science at the University of Gießen in 1997. He has taught and researched, inter alia, at the University of Gießen and the Freie Universität Berlin. Guest Professorships have taken him, inter alia, to the Universities of Naples, Gießen, Lucerne and Rome III. He was Fellow and Visiting Scholar at numerous institutions including the Institut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen, the School of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, as well as at ZRWP/Center for Religion, Economy and Politics of the Collegium Helveticum at the University of Basel.

In 2012, he was Visiting Research Fellow at the Käte Hamburger Center for Advanced Study in the Humanities “Dynamics in the History of Religion between Asia and Europe” in Bochum. Most recently, Otto Kallscheuer held the Guest Professorship for Peace at the University of Osnabrück in the summer semester of 2014 and researched and taught at the Center for Democracy and Peace Research (ZeDF). Previously, he worked as Research Fellow at the Italian Academy for Advanced Study at Columbia University, NY and was Guest Professor for Political Philosophy at the University of Sassari. Following a first research stay at the Käte Hamburger Center for Advanced Study in the Humanities "Law as Culture" from March through August 2011, he was once again Fellow in Bonn from October 2014 through March 2015.

Research Project

Shadows in the Subject. The Intersection of Light and Guilt in Caravaggio’s Paintings

The past half century has led to a spectacular rediscovery and renewed appreciation for Italian painter Michelangelo Merisi, also known as Caravaggio (after his hometown) both in the academic discipline of art history and with a wider audience. For centuries, he had at best been regarded as one of the minori, the lesser mannerist masters of the early Baroque period, before he was rediscovered alla grande especially by Roberto Longhi, and then many others. Beyond the cultural industry, Caravaggio’s newfound cult status, which is certainly also driven in part by big exhibition events in various metropolises, could also be related with how the painter addresses and expresses specific constituents of modern consciousness (of the “self” and about the role and focus of art) in statu nascendi – including those dismissed too hastily (or: too superficially) by both artistic and cultural postmodernism.

During my stay at the Käte Hamburger Center for Advanced Study in the Humanities “Law as Culture”, I shall attempt to understand Caravaggio’s perspectival, focused, and above all sharply illuminated view as a paradigmatic form of modern self-awareness and certainty and its down- or dark sides.

Caravaggio’s subjects (worship, martyrdom, conversion) – which were usually determined by those commissioning the work – contain a body-presence that he spells aut in a ‘naturalistic’ view. Here, Caravaggio’s paintings also stand for a paradigm shift in the history of devotion: from hieratic observation to compassionate perception of the history of salvation and of the drama of incarnation. Caravaggio is well known for taking his subjects from the streets; they are dirty and riddled with blisters. He casts light on them but does not transfigure them.

Not the supernatural afterlife but ordinary life is now the object of the religious message. Caravaggio was seminal both in Counter Reformation Spain and in the Calvinist or denominationally disputed Netherlands (Utrecht School).

The Caravaggian themes of guilt and punishment - presented by him in a ‘Baroque’, dramatic culmination – at the same time represent also central themes of a subjectivity in the West that contemporarily underwent a philosophical reconfigured towards a form of the Self that has been described as ‘detached’ or as ‘disembedded subjectivity’ (Charles Taylor). The search for certainty leads René Descartes to blend out variable sensory impressions as reliable cognitive sources – to a reductio towards the unquestionable cogito.

In Caravaggio’s work, the focusing of light and view (and sword) makes the Cartesian truth of res cogitans operative as a light source. And yet the result is paradoxical: While the subject gains sharper contours, it does not become easier to grasp, it might become clearer, but it gets out of control. Rather, the so illuminated subject loses itself, its fall into the light of truth (see Caravaggio’s ‘Paul’ in Santa Maria del Popolo) is a fall into sin: The subject drops out of the hierarchical order of the cosmos that was still shaped by Renaissance humanism. A ‘lecture’ of Caravaggio’s focus therefore also serves as a reflection on the self assuredness and loss of self in the (philosophical and theological) light of early Modernity.

Publications (selected)

  • Girard and Religion in the Age of Secularism, in: Wolfgang Palaver / Richard Schenk (Eds.), René Girard and World Religions, East Lansing, Michigan: Michigan University Press (2014, forthcoming).
  • Legitimität Identität Stabilität. Die Europäische Union in einer Legitimationskrise?, in: Alexander Heit / Georg Pfleiderer (Ed.), Religions-Politik I. Zur historischen Semantik europäischer Legitimationsdiskurse [Schriftenreihe Religion – Wirtschaft – Politik, Band 6 – 2013], Zürich / Baden-Baden: Nomos Verlag 2013.
  • Ein Papst auf dem Boden des Grundgesetzes, in: Georg Essen (Ed.), Verfassung ohne Grund? Die Rede des Papstes im Bundestag, Freiburg i.Br.: Herder Verlag 2012.
  • Sind Gesellschaften friedensfähig? Stichproben aus der politischen Ideengeschichte, in: Mariano Delgado / Adrian Holderegger / Guido Vergauwen (Eds.), Friedensfähigkeit und Friedensvisionen in Religionen und Kulturen, Stuttgart: W. Kohlhammer Verlag 2012.
  • Nachhaltigkeit und Freiheit, Vorwort zur Neuausgabe von: André Gorz, Kritik der ökonomischen Vernunft. Sinnfragen am Ende der Arbeitsgesellschaft, Zürich: Rotpunktverlag 2010.
  • Hegels Theorie der Säkularisierung: Rechtsstaat als protestantisches Prinzip?, in: Andreas Arndt, Christian Iber und Günther Kruck (Eds.): Staat und Religion in Hegels Rechtsphilosophie, Berlin: Akademie Verlag 2009.
  • Zur Zukunft des Abendlandes, Springe: Zu Klampen Verlag 2009.
  • Die Wissenschaft vom Lieben Gott. Eine Theologie für Recht- und Andersgläubige, Agnostiker und Atheisten, Frankfurt / M.: Die Andere Bibliothek, Eichborn Verlag 2006.
  • Gottes Wort und Volkes Stimme. Glaube Macht Politik, Frankfurt / M.: Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag 1994.
  • Glaubensfragen. Über Karl Marx & Christus & andere Tote, Frankfurt/M.: Frankfurter Verlagsanstalt 1991.
  • Marxismus und Erkenntnistheorie in Westeuropa. Eine politische Philosophiegeschichte, Frankfurt/M.; New York: Campus Verlag 1986.