existential primer

Paul Tillich
encouraging leaps of faith

Primer Topics





Before Existentialism
Beyond Existentialism
Search the Primer

Page Navigation

Paul Tillich was one of the few Americans to influence the development of Continental philosophy during the twentieth century. He was a leading moral philosopher throughout much of the 1940s and 50s. His life-long goal was to reconcile modern philosophical movements with the Christian faith.

Reinhold Niebuhr wrote:

Paul Tillich was a giant among us. His influence extended beyond theological students and circles to include many form other disciplines.... He combined theological with philosophical and psychological learning, and also, he combined religious insights with an understanding and appreciation of the arts. Thus he displayed to the American communities of learning and culture, the wholeness of religious philosophy and of the political and social dimensions of human existence.
- New York Times Book Review; Niebuhr, 1965

Revising Never Ends, Nor Should It…

Do not use this site as a study guide. The Existential Primer is a “living” academic project, unlike a static text. This primer is only a shallow introduction to the thinkers profiled. The incomplete nature of this website might result in misunderstanding the profiled individuals. These pages are revised often because scholarship is never ending. Consult any citations included because within them is where you will find the experts. Read their works!

NOTE: Citations are not in MLA or APA format to prevent “borrowing” from The Existential Primer. Full lists of citations appear at the end of each page. Present tense is used when referencing a published work, while past tense is favored on these pages because the major figures are… dead. Inline citations take the form (Author p. page) with no year. A title is included if there might be confusion as to the work. Quoted long passages appear indented with the <blockquote> tag and cited in the format:

Work; Author, p. Page


Paul Johannes Tillich (pronounced “til-ik”) was born 20 August 1886 in Starzeddel, Prussia, now known as Brandenburg, Germany. His father was a Protestant pastor and the district superintendent for the Prussian Protestant Church.

Studying at Konigsberg, Berlin, Tubingen (Tuebingen), and Breslan (Breslau), Tillich received his doctorate in philosophy from the University of Breslan in 1911. A year later, at Halle-Whittenberg, Tillich received his theology certificate as a pastor within the Protestant Church.

From 1914 through 1918, Tillich served in the German army as a chaplain. He was deeply affected by the loss of faith he witnessed among soldiers — and the German people. For his work with German soldiers, Tillich was awarded the Iron Cross, First Class.

Following the war, Tillich accepted the post of privat-dozent of theology at the University of Berlin. He then taught in Marburg, Dresden, and Leipzig. During the 1920s, Tillich wrote a number of impressive works on both theology and philosophy. Tillich embraced the Protestant religion and Christian faith in general. His philosophical works were primarily of theological origin, reflecting his upbringing and education. By 1929, Tillich as was a full professor of philosophy at Frankfurt-am-Main.

In 1933, following the rise of Hitler, Tillich was removed from his teaching post. He was one of the earliest non-Jewish academics to be targeted by the Third Reich for opposing Hitler’s rise to power. Tillich had openly opposed all the Nazi’s represented and feared what might happen in Europe. He relocated to the United States of America, where he became a naturalized citizen in 1940.

From 1933 through 1955, Tillich was a professor of theology at Union Theological Seminary, in New York City. Reinhold Niebuhr, a fellow theologian and philosopher, helped Tillich secure his initial post at the seminary. While teaching at Union Theological Seminary, Tillich wrote and lectured on issues of alienation and modernity. This conern with alienation and metaphysics aligned him more closely with Continental philosophers than the analytic traditions of American philosophy, but Tillich also served as a bridge between these approaches.

Tillich was ahead of many other theologians in anticipating a shift in American religious practices. While the Christian faith has steadily declined in Europe since World War II, faith followed a different path in America thanks to the Civil Rights movement and a willingness by some denominations to liberalize. Tillich, like Niebuhr, helped provide American Protestants a humanistic theology, with rigorous scholarship to support his philosophical approach.

He retired in 1955, but quickly assumed a professorship at Harvard University. Tillich remained at Harvard until 1962, then he accepted the Nuveen Chair of Theology at the University of Chicago’s Divinity School.

Tillich died 22 October 1965, but his influence on American Protestant faith continues. He also retains a following in both theological and philosophical academic disciplines. More than a dozen of his works have been published posthumously.

Union Theological Seminary honored Tillich by creating a chair in his name.

1886 August 20 Born in Starzeddel, Kreis Guben, Prussia (Brandenburg Germany) to Johannes and Mathilde Tillich.
1904–1908 Studies at various universities: Berlin, Tubingen (Tuebingen), Halle, Breslan (Breslau)
1911 Doctorate in Philosophy from Breslan (Breslau)
1912 Ordained within the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Protestant) with Licentiat of Theology from University of Halle
1914–1918 Chaplain within the German army during World War I.
1919–1924 Privat-dozent at University of Berlin
1924 Marries Hannah Werner
1924–1925 Professor of theology at University of Marburg
1925–1929 Professor of theology at University of Dresden
1928–1929 Concurrent post at the University of Leipzig
1929–1933 Professor of philosophy at Frankfurt-am-Main
1933 Romoved from professorship, flees Germany to New York
1933–1955 Professor at Union Theological Seminar, NYC
1940 Gains United States citizenship.
1955–1962 Professor at Harvard University
1962–1965 Nuveen Chair of Theology at University of Chicago, School of Divinity
1965 October 22 Dies.



Tillich advanced the concept of the “Protestant Principle” and aimed at a correlation of the questions arising out of the human condition and the divine answers drawn from the symbolism of Christian revelation.

Die religiose Lage der Gegenwart, translated into English as The Religious Situation.

Tillich proposed that religion is the ultimate concern overriding all human activities. Only by searching for a relationship with God could an individual discover the internal courage to be — as opposed to the ultimate choice, not being.

Tillich suggested that religion could be a “unifying center” for existence.


Coming soon…


Johnson, Anne Jannette; Contemporary Authors (New York: Thompson-Gale, 2003)

Navigation by WebRing.