Thomas J. J. Altizer

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Thomas Jonathan Jackson Altizer (b. May 28, 1927[1]) is a radical theologian who is known for incorporating Friedrich Nietzsche's conception of the "death of God" and G. W. F. Hegel's dialectical philosophy into his systematic theology.


Altizer was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts and grew up an only child. After briefly attending St. John's College in Annapolis, Maryland, he graduated with BA, MA, and PhD degrees from the University of Chicago. His master's thesis (1951) examined the concepts of nature and grace in St. Augustine. His doctoral dissertation (1955), under the direction of sociologist of religion Joachim Wach, examined Carl Gustav Jung's understanding of religion.

He was assistant professor of religion at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana, from 1954 to 1956, before becoming associate professor of Bible and religion at Emory University from 1956 to 1968. He was professor of Religious Studies at the State University of New York at Stony Brook (Stony Brook University) from 1968 to 1996. He is currently Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at SUNY Stony Brook.

"Death of God" controversy[edit]

During Altizer's time at Emory, two Time magazine articles featured his religious views—in the October 1965 and April 1966 issues. The latter issue, published at Easter time, put the question on its cover in bold red letters on a plain black background: "Is God Dead?"

Altizer has repeatedly claimed that the scorn, outcry, and even death threats he subsequently received were misplaced. Altizer's religious proclamation viewed God's death (really a self-extinction) as a process that began at the world's creation and came to an end through Jesus Christ—whose crucifixion in reality poured out God's full spirit into this world. In developing his position Altizer drew upon the dialectical thought of Hegel, the visionary writings of William Blake, the anthroposophical thought of Owen Barfield, and aspects of Mircea Eliade's studies of the sacred and the profane.

In the mid-1960s Altizer was drawn into discussions about his views with other radical Christian theologians such as Gabriel Vahanian, William Hamilton, and Paul Van Buren, and also the rabbi Richard Rubenstein. Those religious scholars collectively formed a loose network of thinkers who held different versions of the death of God. Altizer also entered into formal critical debates with the evangelical Lutheran John Warwick Montgomery, and the Christian countercult movement apologist Walter Martin. The evangelical theologians faulted Altizer on philosophical, methodological and theological questions, such as his reliance on Hegelian dialectical thought, his idiosyncratic semantic use of theological words, and the interpretative principles he used in understanding biblical literature.[citation needed]

In Godhead and the Nothing (2003), Altizer examined the notion of evil. He presented evil as the absence of will, but not separate from God. Orthodox Christianity—considered nihilistic by Nietzsche—named evil and separated it from good without thoroughly examining its nature. However, the immanence of the spirit (after Jesus Christ) within the world embraces everything created. The immanence of the spirit is the answer to the nihilistic state that Christianity, according to Nietzsche, was leading the world into. Through the introduction of God in the material world (immanence), the emptying of meaning would cease. No longer would followers be able to dismiss the present world for a transcendent world. They would have to embrace the present completely, and keep meaning in the here and now.

Since 1996 Altizer has lived in the Pocono Mountains, Pennsylvania. His 2006 memoir is entitled Living the Death of God.

See also[edit]

Critical assessment[edit]

  • John Warwick Montgomery, The 'Is God Dead?' Controversy (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1966).
  • The Death of the Death of God [audiotapes], debate between Thomas Alltizer and John W. Montgomery at the Rockefeller Chapel, University of Chicago, February 24, 1967.
  • The Altizer-Montgomery Dialogue: A Chapter in the "God Is Dead" Controversy (Chicago: Intervarsity, 1967).
  • Langdon Gilkey, Naming the Whirlwind: The Renewal of God-Language (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1969).
  • John Warwick Montgomery, The Suicide of Christian Theology (Minneapolis: Bethany Fellowship, 1970). ISBN 0-87123-521-8
  • John B. Cobb Jr., ed., The Theology of Alltizer: Critique and Response (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1970).
  • Mark C. Taylor, “Altizer’s Originality: A Review Essay,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 52, no. 3 (September 1984): 569–83.
  • Steve Odin, “Kenosis as a Foundation for Buddhist-Christian Dialogue: The Kenotic Buddhology of Nishida and Nishitani of the Kyoto School in Relation to the Kenotic Christology of Thomas J. J. Altizer,” The Eastern Buddhist 20, no. 1 (Spring 1987): 34–61.
  • Robert S. Corrington, book review of Genesis and Apocalypse, Theology Today, 49, no. 1 (April 1992).
  • Richard L. Feero, Radical Theology in Preparation: From Altizer to Edwards. Ph.D. dissertation, Syracuse University, 1993.
  • D. G. Leahy, Foundation: Matter the Body Itself (Albany: SUNY, 1996): 188–251, 576–628. ISBN 978-0-7914-2022-5
  • "Historical Introduction," Lissa McCullough and Brian Schroeder, eds. Thinking Through the Death of God: A Critical Companion to Thomas J. J. Alltizer (Albany: SUNY, 2004). ISBN 978-0-7914-6220-1
  • Christopher Rodkey, book review of Thinking Through the Death of God, Journal for Cultural and Religious Theory 6, no. 3 (Fall 2005).
  • Lissa McCullough, "Death of God Reprise: Altizer, Taylor, Vattimo, Caputo, Vahanian." Journal for Cultural and Religious Theory 9, no. 3 (Fall 2008): 97–109.
  • Harris, Matthew Edward. "Gianni Vattimo and Thomas J. J. Altizer on the Incarnation and the Death of God: A Comparison." Minerva 15 (2011): 1–19.
  • An Interview with Thomas J. J. Altizer, Journal for Cultural and Religious Theory 12, no. 3 (Spring 2013): 169–85.
  • Schoonenberg, Piet, "The Transcendence of God, Part I," Transcendence and Immanence, Reconstruction in the Light of Process Thinking, Festschrift in Honour of Joseph Papin, ed. Joseph Armenti, St. Meinrad: The Abbey Press, 1972: 157-166.
  • Schoonenberg, Piet, "From Transcendence to Immanence, Part II," Wisdom and Knowledge, Essays in Honour of Joseph Papin, ed. Joseph Armenti, Villanova University Press, 1976: 273-282.


  • Oriental Mysticism and Biblical Eschatology (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1961).
  • Mircea Eliade and the Dialectic of the Sacred (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1963; Westport: Greenwood, 1975). ISBN 0-8371-7196-2
  • Radical Theology and the Death of God, co-authored with William Hamilton (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1966; Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1968).
  • The Gospel of Christian Atheism (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1966).
  • The New Apocalypse: The Radical Christian Vision of William Blake (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1967; Aurora, CO: Davies Group, 2000). ISBN 1-888570-56-3
  • Toward A New Christianity: Readings in the Death of God, ed. Altizer (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1967).
  • The Descent into Hell (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1970).
  • The Self-Embodiment of God (New York: Harper & Row, 1977). ISBN 0-06-060160-4
  • Total Presence: The Language of Jesus and the Language of Today (New York: Seabury, 1980). ISBN 0-8164-0461-5
  • History as Apocalypse (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1985). ISBN 0-88706-013-7
  • Genesis and Apocalypse: A Theological Voyage Toward Authentic Christianity (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1990). ISBN 0-664-21932-2
  • The Genesis of God (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 1993). ISBN 0-664-21996-9
  • The Contemporary Jesus (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997). ISBN 0-7914-3375-7
  • The New Gospel of Christian Atheism (Aurora: Davies Group, 2002). ISBN 1-888570-65-2
  • Godhead and the Nothing (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2003). ISBN 0-7914-5795-8
  • Living the Death of God: A Theological Memoir (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2006). ISBN 0-7914-6757-0
  • The Call to Radical Theology, ed. Lissa McCullough (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2012).
  • The Apocalyptic Trinity (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).
  • Thomas J. J. Altizer Comprehensive Bibliography — Listing books, articles, essays, book reviews, and related writings.
  • Thomas J. J. Altizer Papers, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries — The Thomas J. J. Altizer Papers contain correspondence (1960–1970); typescript books and page proofs; published articles and essays; three audio tapes; and four scrapbooks. Much of the correspondence pertains to the "death of God" movement of the 1960s, of which Altizer was a leader. Arranged in four series: Audiotape recordings: three tapes with recordings of appearances at colleges and on radio programs. Correspondence: primarily responses to Altizer's "death of God" theology representing a wide variety of opinions from grade-school children to learned theologians. Printed material: essays and miscellany. Writings: books, essays, and magazine articles by Altizer. There are no access restrictions on this material.


  1. ^ "Altizer's Personal Website". Retrieved 2014-08-08.  External link in |website= (help)

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