Frick, Heinrich

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FRICK, HEINRICH (18931952), German religious thinker. The term religious thinker characterizes Frick as a scholar who endeavors to combine two potentially conflicting attitudes: Christian theological piety and the ability to analyze in a religio-historical way his own religion and the religions of others.

Born in Darmstadt, Hesse, Frick during his childhood belonged to Bible youth groups. He studied Protestant theology and Arabic in Giessen and Tübingen. He received his licentiate in theology in 1917 from the University of Giessen and joined the Lutheran ministry in Darmstadt. In 1918 he earned his doctorate, also at Giessen; his thesis was Ghazalis Selbstbiographie: Ein Vergleich mit Augustins Konfessionen (Al-Ghazālī's Autobiography: A Comparison with Augustine's Confessions; 1919). Frick began his academic career in 1919 as privatdocent in Religionswissenschaft and missiology at the Technische Hochschule, Darmstadt. He moved to the University of Giessen in 1921, from which he was called to Marburg as successor to Rudolf Otto, whose professorship in systematic theology was, for Frick, extended to include Religionswissenschaft and missiology. In addition, he became director of the Religionskundliche Sammlung, a collection of religious materials from many religions of the world that had been founded by Otto in 1927.

Frick's bibliography contains more than 150 items, most of them articles, reports, prefaces, lectures, speeches, sermons, and statements. Of his few books, only one pertains to Religionswissenschaft proper, that is, Vergleichende Religionswissenschaft (Comparative study of religions; 1928). Here he lucidly develops his typology of religions, analyzing parallels between historical religions of different origin, as well as their respective "peculiarities." He concludes his argument by presenting three fundamental typological phenomena as essentially characteristic of religion: the Catholic-Protestant dissension (religio-historical); the polarity of mystical and believing piety (religio-psychological); and, crucial to the "quality" a religion has, the alternative of symbolization in space or time (religio-philosophical). The book aims at demonstrating that comparative religion is an "indispensable branch of effective theology" (p. 134), in that it proves the necessity of choice between several religious possibilities and offers empirical arguments for a "clear answer to the question why we cling to the gospel in spite of all the parallels and in spite of all the attractions in non-Christian religion" (p. 132).

This theological intention did not prevent Frick from developing, here and in other publications, points of comparison between religions that have since been generally accepted. It was an approach he had already adopted in his thesis comparing al-Ghazālī with Augustine, and again in his reviews and articles on special problems, for example, "Der Begriff des Prophetischen in Islamkunde und Theologie" (The concept of the prophetic in Islamic studies and theology), in Festschrift P. Kahle (1935); and in his programmatic writings, two examples: Das Esvangelium und die Religionen (The Gospel and religion, 1933); and in his article "Christliche Grundbegriffe in ihrer Besonderheit gegenueber Fremdreligionen" (Fundamental Christian ideas in comparison with other religions), Evangelische Missionzeitschrift (1944): 193205, 233255.

Motivated by a lifelong sensitivity to secularistic tendencies and the "crisis of religion," Frick summed up his views on Religionswissenschaft near the end of his life in two lectures on Religionsphaenomenologie (1950) and Religionswissenschaft (1951). Casting doubt on the moral right of neutrality in the field of Religionswissenschaft at a time when modern humanity had become more and more irreligious, Frick called upon his colleagues to search for a synthesis of the venerable religio-cultural traditions and modernity. In his opinion the "most important task of present Religionswissenschaft and related fields in all the scholarly faculties is to fulfill its modest but irremissible part in this."


Neubauer, Reinhard. "Heinrich Frick, 18931952: Theologe." In Marburger Gelehrte in der ersten Hälfte des 20. Jahrhunderts, edited by Ingeborg Schnack, pp. 7590. Marburg, 1977.

Neumann, Käthe. "Bibliographie Heinrich Frick." Theologische Literaturzeitung 78 (1953): 440442. A complete list of his publications is available at Religionskundliche Sammlung, Philipps-Universität Marburg.

Röhr, Heinz. "Der Einfluss der Religionswissenschaft auf die Missionstheorie Heinrich Fricks." Ph.D. diss., Marburg University, 1959.

Martin Kraatz (1987 and 2005)