In the fall of 2012, the German publishing house frommann-holzboog in Stuttgart astonished both the academic world and the anthroposophical scene by announcing the publication of a critical edition of Rudolf Steiner’s works (Steiner: Kritische Ausgabe, or SKA). The announcement was perceived as a minor sensation, since until then the founder of anthroposophy had not yet received much attention in academic circles.1

The academic silence with regard to Steiner, which has now lasted for almost a century, is indeed a striking phenomenon. Steiner was, after all, undeniably one of the culturally most influential personalities within German-speaking culture in the first two decades of the 20th century. So why is there so little talk and research about him in academics? One could perhaps try to explain this by pointing out that Steiner is widely perceived as a spiritualist and esotericist. But the academic study of esotericism in general, after having long been taboo, has managed in recent years to establish itself as a serious discipline.2 And in the course of this development, a number of critical academic studies on Steiner and anthroposophy have recently emerged as well, in particular the very detailed studies by Helmut Zander (2008) and Hartmut Traub (2011).3 Yet it is symptomatic of the current situation that even these very extensive studies have not sparked any noteworthy discourse about Steiner in the academic world. The highly controversial debate about the findings of Zander and Traub took place almost exclusively in anthroposophical journals and books.4

While there has been relatively little academic interest in Steiner during the past 100 years, students and adherents of anthroposophy have produced and published a large number of scholarly papers and books during the same time. Although much of this literature tends to be merely imitative and apologetic, many quite valuable studies can be found here as well. Some of these anthroposophically oriented studies show a deep familiarity and profound knowledge of Steiner’s work and are based on a clear methodology and convincing argumentation. Most of this internal scholarship, however, lacks scholarly rigor inasmuch as these authors tend to be rather uncritical of their subject and their own methodology. As a rule, they show little interest in an open and critical discourse and tend to ignore existing scholarly work already published by academics and other anthroposophists. It is symptomatic, for example, that the bibliographies of these studies often contain little more than a long list of references to Rudolf Steiner.5

As a result of this situation, existing research on Steiner has long been divided into two distinct and mostly unrelated camps. On the academic side, a small group of scholars has emerged, trained in methodic critical thinking and accustomed to open, non-dogmatic discourse, but their work finds little interest in the academic community at large, while anthroposophists often perceive their critical posture as hostility or lack of respect. On the anthroposophic side, there is a relatively large group of researchers with deep sympathy for and expertise in the subject matter, but their work generally lacks the willingness to engage in open discourse with those holding alternative perspectives. Productive discourse between both groups of scholars has been practically nonexistent in the century after Steiner’s death in 1925.

Against this backdrop, the announcement of frommann-holzboog to publish a critical academic edition of the works of this controversial thinker was, indeed, somewhat of a sensation. After all, the edition granted Steiner nothing less than a long-denied entry into the exclusive club of the classics of German intellectual history. (Notably, frommann-holzboog also publishes the historical-critical editions of the works of Jacob Boehme, Fichte, Schelling, and other editions of classic authors.) Even more, the project branded itself explicitly as an attempt to both stimulate the stagnating academic discourse and to build bridges between academic and anthroposophic scholarship on Steiner. Helmut Zander, who among academics is considered a leading scholar in the field (and who is at the same time perceived by many anthroposophists as a hostile opponent) titled his review of the first volume “Tide of the Times” and spoke of a “revolution” in the public discourse about Steiner.6 Thomas Steinfeld, at that time leading editor of the Süddeutsche Zeitung, wrote the following in an editorial:

Apparently, an outsider has taken on the task of editing the writings of one of the most well-known personalities in early 20th century German culture. This is no argument against him, yet a reproval of an academic establishment, which seems to believe it has the right to choose its subjects according to sympathy and liking.7

As of now, the first half of the edition is almost complete. Seven volumes have appeared in print, and the chronologically eighth volume (but the first volume within the edition) will come out next year. Once completed, this section of the edition will provide critically documented versions of all of Steiner’s early philosophical and theosophical writings between 1884 and 1910. A second section with Steiner’s writings between 1911 and 1925 will follow suit. Once completed, the edition will feature all monographs published by the influential thinker and thus represent a comprehensive collection of the foundational texts of anthroposophy. It is the ambitious aim of editor and publisher to complete the entire sixteen-volume edition by 2025, the hundredth anniversary of Steiner’s death.

The following remarks will discuss some of the methodological and thematic conceptions that inform the edition. They will also describe the volumes that have already appeared, provide an overview of the project’s reception up to this point, and preview the volumes still to come. Also added to the article is a bibliography with selected titles of published literature concerning the SKA.

I. Purpose and Conception of the SKA

Since a complete edition of the works of Steiner already exists, known as the Gesamtausgabe or GA, the question may be posed whether there is even a need for this new edition. This question might be answered as follows: The main purpose of a critical edition is to provide a solid textual foundation to assist existing and future research into a certain body of texts. Until now, such a solid philological foundation has been missing for the foundational texts of anthroposophy. As a theosophist and later as an anthroposophist,

Steiner made many changes and revisions in his earlier texts as he prepared them for new editions. Consequently, his core texts have a rich textual history, the documentation of which is a valuable tool for understanding the development of Steiner and anthroposophy. In existing editions, however, including the GA volumes, this textual development is usually not discernible. Their readers are therefore unable to see how these texts looked originally, when their author still worked within a very different terminological and conceptual framework.

In other words, a ‘critical edition’ of a text enables readers to inquire ‘critically’ what an author has written by giving them all available information about the text’s development. It provides tools that can help to come to one’s own informed conclusions about the meaning and significance of a text. The new Steiner edition is a ‘critical edition’ in this sense of the word. The title does not mean, as some anthroposophical readers have assumed,8 that the edition is per se ‘critical’ or ‘dismissive’ about the claims of anthroposophy.

On the other hand, the SKA is not what is usually called a ‘historical-critical edition’, such as the collections of works by Fichte and Schelling also published by frommann-holzboog.9 Such ‘historical-critical editions’ include, as a rule, all the textual variations that might be found in manuscripts, notes, and other archival materials. In contrast, the SKA documents only the textual variants contained in the prints of Steiner’s books that appeared during his lifetime.10

The new Steiner edition distinguishes itself from many existing critical editions in the design of the text and the critical apparatus. The apparatus of a historical-critical edition usually devises a highly abstract system of abbreviations and references. It is doing so to efficiently document variants of individual words in the main text. This system usually requires an expert to decipher the apparatus, and it does not allow the general reader to easily grasp and overlook all the different textual versions at one glance. The SKA edition is different in this regard. Text and apparatus are designed in a way that allows fluent reading not only of the texts’ final form but also of earlier versions, even for someone who is not a trained philologist. While this system requires readers to first familiarize themselves with the particular nature of the references before they can use the apparatus, it has the advantage that after such a familiarization it is very easy to follow the various chronological layers of the text. In other words, the edition favors aesthetics and user-friendliness over efficiency and convention.

Furthermore, while the existing Gesamtausgabe or GA reserves each volume for one individual book by Steiner and organizes those chronologically in a strict sense, the critical Steiner edition combines several thematically connected works within each volume. But chronology is not completely ignored; most writings appear indeed in chronological order. Yet in cases where there is a conflict between both organizational principles, thematic cohesion clearly overrides chronology.11 This method of combining various writings on the same subject matter within each volume is quite an interesting feature as it makes it possible to observe Steiner in his various treatments of the same issue, revealing connections that are not immediately obvious in the GA’s arrangement of the books.

In addition to offering a reliable text base and a documentation of textual variants, the SKA volumes also provide most other tools commonly found in academic editions. Each volume provides a running commentary of annotations that documents citations, paraphrases, and other references. Depending on the nature of a particular volume, there are also indices of names, keywords, and in some cases (i. e., in volume 5) biblical references. Each volume also features an extensive bibliography of works cited and of writings by Steiner related to the subject at hand. It is also noteworthy that the commentary not only references the source of each quotation or paraphrase but also provides the complete original wording and formatting of each quote.12 This information is particularly useful because Steiner often shortened quotes without indication and tended to be cavalier about referencing, which resulted in numerous errors in his citations. The attention to detail in the keyword indices is remarkable as well, as they reference not only main concepts but also linguistic variations and combinations. In volume 8, for instance, the keyword “spirit” (Geist) has no less than eighty-five subentries, from “spiritual intention” (geistige Absicht) to “spirit body” (Geistkörper) to “spirit of the times” (Zeitgeist).

In addition to these philological instruments, each volume of the SKA features an elaborate introduction written by the editor13 and a foreword provided by an expert in the respective thematic field. The introductions provide an outline of the content and the development of each text and contextualize Steiner’s ideas within his biography. In doing so, the introductions put special emphasis on the various intellectual and spiritual influences that shaped the thinker’s development. They portray not only Steiner’s many philosophical influences but also show how he was inspired by his study of natural science (particularly by Ernst Haeckel’s theory of evolution), Christian mysticism, and especially Anglo-Indian Theosophy, a movement Steiner joined after the turn of the century.

Methodically, the introductions use a hermeneutic approach to the subject matter, reading Steiner predominantly in the context of the history of ideas and the author’s own development. They strive to reconstruct and comprehend Steiner’s unique cosmos of ideas and their evolution and display little inclination for criticism or affirmation. The introductions also abstain from delving too intensively into the rich literature of historical and religious research concerning modern western esotericism. They engage only with studies explicitly concerned with Steiner and anthroposophy.

It should also be mentioned that some of Steiner’s texts, which originally appeared as monographs but were designated as essays in the GA (and thus ‘taken out of sight’, as it were) are restored in the SKA to their original status as books.14 As a result, the conception of the SKA consists of thirty-three writings by Rudolf Steiner, while the book count within the current GA amounts to twenty-eight (the four Mystery Dramas counted as individual works in each case).15

Due to these differences between the SKA and the GA, it could seem as if both editions are competing with one another. In truth, however, they actually complement each other. The expressed purpose of the complete edition is to provide to an anthroposophical readership and to the general public affordable and easy-to-read copies of everything Steiner has produced,16 including not only his written books but also his essays, his many public and internal lectures, and his artistic productions. The critical edition, on the other hand, is limited to the published books, focusing exclusively on those texts intended and carefully designed for public reception. (Steiner’s numerous lectures for the membership were explicitly not intended for critical study but for spiritual and meditative purposes, a fact often overlooked by critics who base their evaluation of anthroposophy on these notes). The SKA features only texts intended for public reception and presents them in a manner that allows for careful critical investigation. Both editions, therefore, pursue entirely different purposes, and their respective editors enjoy a constructive and mutually beneficial work relationship.17

II. Concerning the volumes already in print

The seven volumes of the SKA already in print did not appear in the order of their numeration, to the surprise of some observers. Rather, the sequence of publications seemed to be quite unsystematic. The series launched in 2013 with volume 5: Writings on Mysticism, Mystery Culture, and History of Religion. Other volumes followed, with one issue published per year: volume 7, Writings on Cognitive Development (2015); volume 2, Philosophical Writings (2016); volume 6, Writings on Spiritual Anthropology (2017); volume 8, Writings on Anthropogenesis and Cosmogony (2018); volume 3, Intellectual Biographies (2019); and volume 4, Writings on the History of Philosophy (2020). Volume 1, containing the Early Writings on Goethe-Interpretation, will appear in 2022 as the last issue of the first section.

Careful readers of the introductions will find, however, that there is indeed a method behind this sequence. The series deliberately begins with writings that Steiner produced during an important period of transformation, when his philosophical or pre-esoteric phase had come to an end and when his period of theosophical and anthroposophical thought began. This time of transition was a key moment in his intellectual and spiritual biography, and it is particularly suited to demonstrate how the two major periods in Steiner’s development, as well as some smaller shifts within these main periods, are held together by certain unchanging notions and perspectives. The introduction to volume 5 seeks to illustrate this intellectual foundation in Steiner’s thinking by pointing to what it calls the “law of ideogenesis” (ideogenetisches Grundgesetz).18 This law postulates that

[…] all mystical and natural scientific ideas […], but also all mythical, religious, artistic and philosophical conceptions […] ultimately emerge out of the one ‘core fact of consciousness’, the mystic experience of the self-realization of spirit within the human being. […] Steiner interpreted the manifold worldviews, mythologies and philosophies in history, as much as they may differ from each other in detail, as lawful and therefore intelligible metamorphoses of this one core fact of the inner life: that all cognition is projection of a ‘Self’ into some form of ‘Non-Self.’19

This law of ideogenesis, which the introduction to volume 5 defines as a core element in Steiner’s thinking, reveals how the foundation of his thought is rooted in the intellectual tradition of German idealism. Schelling in particular is cited many times as a role model. In subsequent introductions, this concept is then used as a key to understanding the various periods in Steiner’s own intellectual development, interpreting these periods as metamorphoses of an overall constant thought signature. In the same way in which, for instance, Goethe in his morphological studies saw the various organs of a plant as variations of one primal form (which he called “leaf”), the introductions interpret the changing formations within Steiner’s cosmos of thought as variations of the mystical core experience of ideogenesis. And from this interpretative perspective, which is developed in volume 5, the introductions of subsequent volumes look into the future of Steiner’s developing anthroposophy and into the past of his pre-esoteric writings.

Volume 7 followed in 2015, containing the Writings on Cognitive Development. Major themes of this volume are the various forms of anthroposophical meditation and Steiner’s theory of higher stages of consciousness, which he believed can be developed through meditative practice. This volume contains two texts, which originally appeared as two series of essays: How to Know Higher Worlds (1904–1905) and The Stages of Higher Cognition (1905–1908). The leading Steiner scholar Gerhard Wehr wrote a foreword to this volume, just a short time before he passed on.

In 2016, volume 2 followed suit with the Philosophical Writings. This volume features Steiner’s doctoral dissertation of 1892, The Core Problem of Epistemology, which appeared in extended form one year later under the title Truth and Science. Also included is Steiner’s philosophical groundwork, The Philosophy of Freedom (1894). In these texts, the reader can study how deeply Steiner’s thought is rooted in his reception of German idealism and how important this insight is for understanding the epistemological and methodological foundations of his later theosophy and anthroposophy. The foreword was written by Eckart Förster, a distinguished expert in the philosophy of German idealism.

Volume 6 (2017) offers Writings on Spiritual Anthropology, adding to the collection the foundational texts of Steiner’s understanding of human nature, which are essential to Waldorf pedagogy, anthroposophical medicine, and other practical applications of anthroposophy: the book Theosophy of 1904 and an unfinished manuscript of 1910 titled Anthroposophy. The appendix to this volume features extensive material from theosophical literature. This material helps the reader to understand how Steiner’s anthropology originally used theosophical models and how he later transformed these models into his anthroposophical ideas by interpreting them through the lens of his idealist philosophy and his own spiritual experiences. Egil Asprem, a scholar known for his studies in western esotericism, provided the foreword.

Volume 8 (2018) presents the core text of Steiner’s esoteric world view, the Outline of Esoteric Science of 1910, together with a preliminary study to this fundamental text, the essay series From the Akasha-Chronical (1905–1908). The tome illustrates how Steiner extended his worldview by integrating Darwin’s theory of evolution and Ernst Haeckel’s law of biogenesis into his idealist version of Theosophy. A pioneer of the academic study of western esotericism, Wouter Hanegraaff, wrote the foreword to this extensive tome.

Volume 3 appeared in 2019. It features three intellectual biographies that Steiner penned during the 1890s: Friedrich Nietzsche: A Fighter Against His Time (1895); Goethe’s Conception of the World (1897); and Haeckel and His Opponents (1900). These texts provide insight into Steiner’s reception of contemporary philosophical and natural scientific currents during the decade before he turned to esotericism, opening new perspectives for a better understanding of the many shifts in Steiner’s intellectual and spiritual biography. The foreword was written by Ansgar Martins.

The most recent volume, volume 4, contains the Writings on the History of Philosophy. It prominently features Steiner’s encyclopedic work World- and Life-Conceptions in the 19th Century of 1900/01, as well as the 1914 revision of this text, titled The Riddles of Philosophy. In the latter form, the text contains Steiner’s most comprehensive portrayal of his ideas about the evolution of human consciousness, a core aspect of anthroposophical theory. A comparison between both versions shows how the seminal ideas of this spiritual theory of evolution can already be found in the first edition. The comparison also reveals how these insights could assume their ultimate shape only after Steiner’s intensive study of Theosophy. The author of the introduction to this volume is Eckart Förster.

The edition’s directory announces the appearance of volume 1, which will feature Steiner’s Early Studies on Goethe, for the upcoming year (2022). Here, the reader will find Steiner’s early writings on Goethe: a series of introductions from his own Goethe edition published in the 1880s, which he later reissued in book form as Goethe’s Natural-Scientific Writings (1925), and his first book publication, Outline of an Epistemology According to Goethe’s World Conception of 1886.

Even this short summary should illustrate to the reader how the new edition makes an attempt, both by way of the editor’s introductions and through the arrangement and treatment of the individual texts, to hermeneutically approach Steiner from a developmental standpoint. The SKA does not employ, however, a one-dimensional historical perspective by interpreting inner development as a mere reaction to outer influences. It also does not embrace the teleological perspective of some anthroposophists, who see Steiner’s biography as a predestined path. Rather, a hermeneutical approach is employed, which recognizes the entelecheic dimension of developmental processes just as much as their contingency. This approach seeks to not only explain subsequent developments by earlier ones but also considers the opposite chronological direction. A perspective is developed, in which the inner realities of Steiner’s mental biography are not only seen as determined by outside realities but in which the opposite is attempted as well; namely, to understand the events that meet a person from the apparent outside as encounters with that person’s true self. In this regard, one can only agree with Helmut Zander’s statement when he writes that the introductions of the SKA follow Steiner’s own “reading instructions”20 for his texts—even though this statement probably needs to be understood in a different sense than the derogatory one intended by its author.

III. Reception of the SKA

Our remark about Zander leads us to the reception of the project up to this point. As the existing literature on the SKA amounts to several hundred individual publications at this point (both in print and online) and can easily seem confusing at first, an informative overview will hopefully be helpful. Interested readers may study all relevant texts on the edition’s website.21 Since, in making these remarks, I will have to speak about myself as the editor of the edition, I will attempt to maintain the necessary objectivity by refraining from any attempt to respond or to rebuke. Readers are encouraged to evaluate for themselves to what extent the criticism is justified.

The reception of the SKA project among anthroposophical readers was divided and controversial from early on. While representatives of more liberal and progressive currents of anthroposophy tended to react positively, many negative and dismissive reactions were issued from more conservative and orthodox anthroposophists. In many cases, however, as will be shown below, these reactions mirrored not only the content and character of the SKA, but also reflected certain internal anthroposophical sensitivities and internal group conflicts, which were projected onto the edition and its editor by the respective personalities.

One misunderstanding, which arose right after the publication of the first volume, can be illustrated by pointing to the above mentioned review by Helmut Zander, in which he mentions that “they [the anthroposophists] participate in the creation of a critical edition and analysis of the works of Rudolf Steiner.” This statement was, in this form, not entirely correct. While there is indeed some collaboration between the publishing house frommann-holzboog and the Rudolf Steiner publishing house, the collaboration consists of nothing else than a technical arrangement. The Steiner publishing house agreed to take over a certain number of printed copies of each volume from frommann-holzboog, in order to distribute them through their own marketing system. In addition to this, the director of the Rudolf Steiner Archive, David Marc Hoffmann, agreed to perform a quality check on the first volume that was already completed and ready for print. In other words, there was no participation whatsoever of the Steiner publishing house or archive in the conception, realization, or production of the SKA. Yet many conservative anthroposophists misunderstood the situation and considered the alleged cooperation as an affront: Based on their anti-academic attitude, they perceived the project of a critical and academic edition of Steiner’s works a priori as an attack on anthroposophy.

These reactions were not surprising to those who know the scene and understand that strong anti-academic sentiments have been a part of the anthroposophical movement from its very conception. In some regards, this tendency can be traced back all the way to the founder of the movement itself, and even today many anthroposophists perceive the academic world as implicitly hostile toward anthroposophy and spirituality in general. Seen through the lens of this prejudice, the SKA was doomed to be perceived as a hostile project. Prominent voices within the anthroposophical press and blogosphere have since filled countless pages and websites with sometimes irrational and biased, sometimes very sophisticated arguments, explaining why the introductions of the editors, regardless of evident professional competence and sound knowledge of the subject matter,22 should not be regarded as a subject of serious discourse by anthroposophists. Reviewers of this kind were obviously not interested in the interpretative perspective provided in the introductions, but very concerned with defending the dogma of the impotence of ‘academism’ in anthroposophical matters. Prominent examples of this are the publications of Pietro Archiati (2014a, 2014b, 2015), Iris-Astrid Kern (2013), Thomas Meyer (2013), and Roland Tüscher (2015, 2016). Out of this group, I would like to quote only the voice of Tüscher here, the editor of an anthroposophical newsletter and somewhat of a leader of the anti-academic faction within anthroposophy. His statements are generally free of the polemic and emotional tone of some of his combatants and can therefore highlight the peculiar logic of their argument:

Let me reiterate: No academic science or individual scientific discipline is capable of comprehending the organic living science [that is: anthroposophy]. As far as the writings of Rudolf Steiner are concerned, academic science can only provide external, superficial, and hence irrelevant commentary, regardless of how profound the underlying philological expertise and analysis may be. If we want to understand the writings of Rudolf Steiner, we must look at them through the lense of the organic living science. [Therefore], anthroposophy can never be an object of study for the SKA, while the SKA can very well be an object of study for anthroposophy.23

Another stumbling block for many anthroposophical observers was the fact that I myself, as the editor of the SKA, am affiliated with an LDS-sponsored institution, Brigham Young University in Utah, and that my work is therefore supported financially and logistically by the Mormon church.24 This provided for some a plausible answer to the question of what could possibly motivate a non-anthroposophist academic to edit the works of Steiner. When these critics learned about the historical affiliation of the founders of Mormonism with freemasonry, they apparently deduced from this that the SKA surely had to be part of a Mormon and masonic conspiracy against anthroposophy. (In certain orthodox anthroposophical groups, there is a long tradition of identifying Jesuits and Freemasons as sworn enemies of anthroposophy.)25 Thus a second a priori of orthodox anthroposophical SKA reception was established: In the same way there could be only one reason for the academic study of anthroposophy—namely, to destroy it—this also had to be the real intention of the “Mormon professor”.26 Since the creation of this conspiracy theory by Thomas Meyer, Pietro Archiati, and others, it is spooking around in countless anthroposophical publications, blogs, and social media sites.

In addition to such mere theoretical resistance against the SKA, orthodox anthroposophists also took practical action. When, for example, the book store at the Goetheanum in Dornach began to display and sell copies of the critical edition, a petition was moved by some members during the 2017 assembly of the Anthroposophical Society, asking the leadership to stop this and to “boycott” the SKA.27 A similar attempt took place recently, after frommann-holzboog had announced the intention to extend the SKA project by launching an academic journal called Steiner Studies. The editorial board of this journal was to consist of not only academics but also some prominent anthroposophists. Yet because some of the designated academic board members (Helmut Zander and Ansgar Martins, in particular) were perceived by some anthroposophists as opponents of the movement, another campaign was launched. This time, their goal was to have the anthroposophist members of the board (Wolf-Ulrich Klünker and Jost Schieren) renounce their posts at anthroposophical journals. In their opinion, academic engagement with scholars critical of anthroposophy amounted to “cooperating” with the “enemies” of Steiner.28

The reception of the SKA looked very different among anthroposophists with a more progressive perspective and a generally more sympathetic view on academic research on Steiner and anthroposophy. Many reviewers from this segment of the spectrum welcomed the project of the critical edition and evaluated the editor’s introductions with a mix of excitement, curiosity, and critical sympathy. Examples of these reviews can be found in the publications of Anna-Katharina Dehmelt (2014, 2015, 2018), Jörg Ewertowski (2013, 2017), Jens Heisterkamp (2013a, 2013b), David Marc Hoffmann (2013a, 2013b, 2014a, 2014b, 2015, 2016a, 2016b, 2017), Johannes Kiersch (2013), Wolf-Ulrich Klünker (2014), Philip Kovce (2014a, 2014b, 2016), Martin Kollewijn (2016), Andreas Neider (2014), Hartwig Schiller (2014), Stephan Stockmar (2013), Günther Röschert (2014), Wolfgang Voegele (2016), Stephan Weishaupt (2014), Roland Wiese (2014), David Wood (2014, 2015), and some others. The discussion in this segment was rich und multifaceted, and I cannot in this article adequately discuss all the individual observations and evaluations that emerged in this body of texts.

A third group of voices was also overall critical toward the methodology of the edition and toward the interpretative approach of the introductions, but this group did generally not revert to the polemic and speculative approaches that characterize the reactions of the first group. Their reviews sought to be objective and fair in their defense of a more orthodox interpretation of Steiner’s texts. Examples of this form of reception are the contributions of Lorenzo Ravagli (2019), Irene Diet (2015), Frank Linde (2015), and others. But even though these reviews attempt to remain objective, and even though they employ a matter-of-fact and seemingly academic diction, they overall do not show much interest in a plurality of views concerning their subject matter. Rather, they display an obvious tendency to determine the validity of alternative interpretations of anthroposophy by the degree to which these interpretations conform to their own. With regard to the SKA, these reviews show little interest in understanding the interpretative approach of the edition’s introductions in order to, perhaps, explore the weak and the strong aspects of that approach. Rather, their main interest is in finding the points where this approach deviates from their own interpretation in order to reject it as incorrect. One could characterize this segment of SKA reception as a form of modern Steiner scholasticism (in the medieval meaning of the word). The authors intend to speak about Steiner critically and objectively, even making use of the linguistic and argumentative forms of academic discourse, but they do not in reality live up to that standard because they do not critically reflect on the degree to which their approach is implicitly affirmative and apologetic.

Of particular interest among anthroposophical reactions are the reviews penned by Christoph Hueck. Hueck disagrees with those anthroposophists (and with academic critics like Ansgar Martins) who maintain that the SKA introductions interpret Steiner’s conception of the “spiritual world” and of “spiritual research” in a subjective or psychologizing way, and thus, at least implicitly, deny their literal existence. Instead, Hueck believes that the characteristic hermeneutic tools developed in those introductions (such as the ‘law of ideogenesis’ or the editor’s notions of ‘projection’ and ‘inversion’) are not counter to Steiner’s intentions at all. On the contrary, Hueck believes that, with some good will, they could actually be deduced out of Steiner himself.29

In summary, although some of the anthroposophical reception of the SKA is characterized by misunderstandings, projections, and hostile polemics, encouraging and potentially fruitful modes of reception have emerged as well. Suggestions like those made by Hueck could possibly, if they were taken up, lead to fruitful new discourses within academic and anthroposophical research on Steiner.

On the academic side, reviewers differentiated much more clearly between their evaluation of the quality of the critical text as such (an aspect most anthroposophists had little or no interest in)30 and their opinions about the interpretative approach displayed in the edition’s introductions. Concerning the latter, some reviewers expressed skepticism, while the philological presentation of the texts received almost unanimous praise.31 Prominent critics of the introductions included Helmut Zander (2013, 2015, 2017a, 2017b, 2018), Ansgar Martins (2013a, 2013b, 2013c, 2014a, 2014b, 2015, 2016), and Peter Staudenmaier (2015).32 Other academically oriented reviews with an overall positive tone were written by Thomas Bach (2017), Nikolai Forstbauer (2014), Bertram Herr (2016, 2018), Harald Lamprecht (2013), Andreas Resch (2013), Thomas Steinfeld (2014), a number of foreign reviewers (Boada [2016] and Carvalho [2016]), and some anonymous authors.

The academic reviewers highlight three major points of criticism. First, they express unease about how the genetically and hermeneutically oriented approach of the SKA introductions attempts to primarily understand Steiner’s texts in their own right. According to Zander, this hermeneutic approach follows Steiner’s own “reading instructions” for his texts, using “steinerian thought forms, as they can be found in characteristic anthroposophical expressions.” Zander then seems to admit that it was “naturally” legitimate to understand Steiner’s texts in their own right, but only in order to subsequently question the validity of such an immanent approach again. “Would an external perspective,” he asks, “not be helpful in better understanding Steiner in his historical contexts?”33 In a similar way, Staudenmaier expresses concern, perceiving the immanent approach of the introductions as “conflicted” and “ambivalent.”34 Interestingly, though, he arrives at this conclusion not by way of carefully analyzing the pros and cons of the approach itself but by way of referring to personal statements from an interview he got his hands on.35 Nonetheless, by calling the interpretative approach of the introductions “productive but conflicted,” Staudenmaier seems to acknowledge that the approach could just as well be called “conflicted but productive,” which I would take as a nice compliment.36 In Martins’s reading, a similar tendency can be found. He characterizes the intellectual and spiritual affinity of the introductions to their object of study as “ideological”, and this approach leads him to the conclusion that the perspective presented in the SKA introductions should be seen as an example of “reformatory” or “liberal” anthroposophy in its own right.37

A second point of criticism among academic readers of the introductions is a perceived lack of engagement with the existing literature created by scholars of history and religious studies. Zander writes that the author of the introduction to volume 5 “seems to know this body of work only partially.” He goes on to contend that, without knowledge of this literature, one simply cannot understand “to what degree the discussions about the relationship between Christianity and ancient mystery religions around 1900 were an arena where the very identity of Christianity was battled out.” Knowledge of this literature is also required, according to Zander, to properly “understand why Steiner would take his own idea, which situates anthroposophy within the tradition of the pagan mysteries, from these debates.”38Martins (2015) has similar concerns about a lack of scholarly contextualization, pointing to other studies that the author of the introductions should have used in order to understand Steiner.

A third caveat among academic observers is a perceived depreciation of Theosophy as a major intellectual and spiritual inspiration for Steiner’s esotericism. Zander writes, for instance: “[Clement] marginalizes the theosophical influences, in my opinion, counter to the findings of the historians, but on the shoulders of Steiner’s own self-interpretation.”39 Staudenmaier displays a similar perspective as he contends that, in the introductions, the esotericist Steiner seems to be overshadowed by the philosopher Steiner. Steiner’s actual personality comes across as “tamed” and “flattened” in these presentation, Staudenmaier finds, and has little resemblance with the incommensurability and the ambitious intentions of the historical person.40 The esoteric Steiner was, in Staudenmaier’s view, as a thinker much more “unsettling,” “disruptive,” “provocative,” and “unruly” than his faint portrait in the SKA introductions. Martins, too, diagnoses an emphasis on Steiner’s philosophy at the cost of his esotericism, and he contends that the actual claim of anthroposophy, to present a path to spiritual knowledge, is undercut in this process. In particular, Martins seems to believe that the SKA approach psychologizes Steiner’s notions of the spiritual experience. He sees evidence for this in one statement from the introduction to volume 7 that has also drawn criticism from many anthroposophical readers:

The only entity that we as human beings encounter in the meditative experience is, according to Steiner, our own being—both as a personal and individual entity, as well as in its universal and absolute dimension.41

It should be added that, as the edition is progressing, reviewers on both sides seem to focus their attention less on the seemingly problematic issues of the introductions and increasingly show interest in the positive and innovative aspects presented by the editor’s approach. Generalist rejections of their methodic approach, which can be found in some early reactions, are absent in most recent reviews. Zander even admits in his most recent review of volume 8 that he himself has been converted by the SKA from his previously maintained “conversion theory” concerning Steiner’s intellectual evolution.42

These developments are hopeful signs that the critical Steiner edition may well be underway toward its declared goal: to inspire both the academic discourse about Steiner and the conversation between academic and anthroposophical scholarship by finding more differentiated and thus more productive ways of speaking about anthroposophy.

IV. Preview on the Remaining Volumes

The original conception of the SKA was limited to eight volumes containing Steiner’s writings until 1910. There were several reasons for this restriction. For one, publisher and editor were not able to predict whether a critical edition of writings by Rudolf Steiner would elicit any significant resonance. Also, it was unclear whether the intended output of one volume per year was actually realistic. As the progression of the project provided positive answers to both of these questions, a decision was made in early 2020 to continue the edition and to include all of the author’s significant books.

It is a fact, though, that Steiner edited his publications after 1910 in a much less significant way than his earlier writings. Anthroposophy had overall been established by that time, and Steiner had few reasons to make significant changes to his more recent writings. Because of this, the question arises whether a critical documentation of the textual development is even necessary with regard to these books. A closer look reveals, however, that even some of these later writings do have a quite rich textual history, especially his Mystery Dramas, his books Goethe’s Spiritual Constitution (1918), and Core Issues of the Social Question (1919). Also, the book editions of Letters to the Membership (Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts) and the autobiography The Course of My Life differ quite significantly from their original form, in which they were published as article series in anthroposophical journals. In light of these examples, a continuation of the edition seems indeed sufficiently justified.

The new volumes will differ somewhat from the earlier ones, as can be learned from the recently published complete inventory of volumes.43 The introductions, for example, will no longer be provided exclusively by the editor. Rather, external experts and teams of experts will partially take over this task. This transition seems quite reasonable considering that, for example, the medical and sociological writings are much more oriented toward practical matters. Commentaries on these books will require expertise not only in Steiner’s own development but also in the respective disciplines and practices.

In particular, the following volumes will be included in the extended version of the edition:

Volume 9 will contain the four Mystery Dramas, which Steiner created and produced during the years of 1910 to 1913: The Portal of Initiation, The Ordeal of the Soul, The Guardian of the Threshold, and The Soul’s Awakening. These plays will be introduced by the editor, who has already published several studies on this subject.44

Volume 10 is titled Writings on a Meditative Approach to Anthroposophy, Vol. I (1912–1913). Featured here are A Path to Self-Knowledge of 1912 and The Threshold of the Spiritual World from 1913. An introduction will be provided by Terje Sparby, a leading scholar in the field of anthroposophical meditation.

Volume 11 features Writings on History and Political Events of the Day. It combines two of Steiner’s books that are quite far apart, both in time and content: The Spiritual Guidance of Mankind (1911) and Thoughts During the Time of the War (1915). Ansgar Martins could be won for writing the introduction.

Volume 12 combines three books that Steiner wrote during World War I. It is titled: Writings on the Relationship of Anthroposophy toward Natural Science and the Humanities. Featured here are the books The Riddle of Man (1916), Riddles of the Soul (1917), and Goethe’s Spiritual Constitution (1918), with an introduction by Johannes Kiersch.

Volume 13 will contain Steiner’s writings on social threefolding, which were very influential during the time of their publication: Core Issues of the Social Question (1919) and a collection of essays titled Concerning the Realization of the Threefold Social Organism (1921). Two experts in this subject, Christoph Strawe and André Bleicher, are preparing an introduction to this issue.

The title of volume 14 resembles the title of volume 10: Writings on a Meditative Approach to Anthroposophy, Vol. II (1922–1925). It contains the relatively short text On the Life of the Soul of 1922, the lecture series Three Steps in Anthroposophy of 1923, and the Letters to the Membership, written between 1924 and 1925. The latter are also known as Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts. Wolf-Ulrich Klünker will write an introduction to this volume.

Volume 15 is titled Writings on Anthroposophical Medicine and features the groundwork of Steiner’s alternative approach to the discipline: Basic Ideas for an Enhancement of the Art of Healing. For this volume, another team of experts has assembled to write an introduction: Matthias Gierke, Michaela Glöckler, and Georg Soldner.

The concluding volume 16 is titled Autobiographic Writings. The center of attention here is on a collection of autobiographical essays from 1924 to 1925, later published in book form as The Course of My Life by Marie Steiner. Additionally, the tome will feature some smaller texts and lectures, in which Steiner provides additional perspective on the course of his life.

In view of the diverse discussions about the first section of the edition, we can look forward to the publication of these additional volumes. Their reception not only in anthroposophical and academic circles, but also in the general press, might offer new and inspiring perspectives for future debates about one of Germany’s arguably least understood thinkers.45

V. Bibliography of SKA Literature

The bibliography below is a representative selection of characteristic contributions to the SKA debate in the print media. The numerous blogposts and online articles, some of which must be regarded as most interesting contributions, have mostly not been included here, but a complete list of all contributions can be retrieved from the edition’s website ( Using these tools, the interested reader can gain a more in-depth picture of the SKA’s reception, both within the various segments of the anthroposophical spectrum and with regard to its academic reception.