Department of Theology and Religious Studies
   
   
  

Wagner and Theology

Professor Richard Bell is investigating the theological, ethical, and artistic interests of the composer Richard Wagner.

A major outcome of the project will be a two-volume work exploring the theology of the Ring cycle, exploring Wagner's work and its relationship to Christianity.

 

Project themes

Theology and Philosophy

Richard Wagner portraitWagner was one of the few composers to read avidly in the areas of Theology and Philosophy. He was especially interested in German Idealism but he was always creative in appropriating the thought of figures such as Hegel, Feuerbach and Schopenhauer.

Books | Articles | Lectures

Books
Articles
Lectures

Teleology, Providence and the ‘Death of God’ in Wagner’s Ring Cycle: A Study of the Composer’s Debt to G.W.F. Hegel

  • Department of Theology and Religious Studies, University of Nottingham
  • 19 October 2016
  • Lecture handout

 

The humanization of God in Wagner’s Ring Cycle: The composer’s appropriation of the theology and philosophy of Ludwig Feuerbach 

  • School of Humanities, University of Nottingham
  • 1 December 2016
  • Lecture handout

 

Doing Theology with Richard Wagner

Student blog reflecting on Richard Bell's module "Doing Theology with Richard Wagner"

 
 

Luther and the New Testament

Title page Luther New testament Hans HolbeinWagner’s copy of the New Testament in Luther’s translation was the most heavily marked of all his books in his private library in Dresden. This was preparatory study for an opera Jesus of Nazareth which never got beyond the stage of prose sketches and one musical sketch. I argue that Wagner’s sketches, composed as he started work on the Ring cycle, are key to understanding the work. 

Articles | Lectures

Articles
Lectures

Wagner’s Prose Sketches for Jesus of Nazareth: Theological Reflections on an Uncompleted Opera

 
 
 

Redemption

Durer MelencoliaIt is universally acknowledged that all the operas in the ‘Wagnerian canon’ to a greater or lesser extent concern redemption. For Wagner redemption is multi-dimensional, sometimes highly ambiguous, and often necessitates the death of the female redeemer figure. 

Articles | Lectures

Articles
Lectures

Redemption in Wagner's Ring Cycle 

 

Redemption in Wagner's Ring Cycle

 
 

Love and Sexuality

Tristan and Isolde original production Joseph AlbertLove is a central theme in all of Wagner’s operas and has a fundamental redemptive power. But many are shocked by the way human love is expressed in some of his stage works (e.g. incest and adultery in The Valkyrie). Nevertheless he has important things to say about sexual ethics and sexuality (through both his stage works and essays) which we may need to listen to today.

Articles | Lectures

Articles
Lectures

Law and Freedom: Wagner’s Contribution to Sexual Ethics (Richard Wagner’s Jesus of Nazareth and the Ring of the Nibelung II)

 
 
 

Power and Politics

Poster warrant for Wagner's arrest H.P.HaackWagner’s art is inseparable from politics and his dream was to see German society transformed by performances of his ‘music dramas’ (he did not always like the term ‘opera’ because of its bourgeois connotations). Contrary to popular opinion he was not a proto-Nazi. Rather he could be described as a socialist (taking the occasional sips of champagne) and was a leader in the Dresden uprising of May 1849. By some good luck he managed to evade arrest and what would have been a long prison term.

Articles | Lectures

Articles
Lectures

Wagner’s Portrayal of Jesus of Nazareth: Social Revolutionary and Redeemer (Richard Wagner’s Jesus of Nazareth and the Ring of the Nibelung I)

 
 

Nature and Science

Richard Wagner monument Pirna Bernd GrossWagner, like Goethe, took a special interest in ‘nature’ and the Ring cycle especially is remarkable for its portrayal of the natural order and the world of animals. Wagner opposed vivisection, tried to be a vegetarian, and had a special love for dogs and parrots which he kept as pets.

Articles | Lectures

Articles

Lectures

Nature, law, sexual ethics, the state, and love: a central constellation in Wagner’s Ring

 

Wagner’s The Rheingold Scene One: Theological Reflections on “Creation” and “Fall”

 
 
 

Death and Immortality

Parsifal Arnaldo Dell'IraIn most of Wagner’s opera the key protagonists die, sometimes meeting a violent death. His views on death and immortality are complex in that we find him indebted to the views of Hegel (who had little role for immortality) and for a time to Feuerbach (who positively denied it). However, in later life he did change his mind partly because of his increasing interest in Kant and Schopenhauer (this new approach can be found in his final stage work Parsifal). 

Books | Articles | Lectures

Books
Articles
Lectures

Love, Death and Immortality: A Fundamental Wagnerian Constellation (Richard Wagner’s Jesus of Nazareth and the Ring of the Nibelung III)

  • Vacation Term for Biblical Study, Westminster College, Cambridge
  • 3 August 2017
  • Lecture handout

 
 

Norse and Germanic Literature

Ring cycle The Rhinegold Arthur RackhamWagner based many of his stage works on Norse and Germanic literature, but always changing the narrative in some fundamental way. In the Ring cycle he combines the German Lay of the Nibelungs (Nibelungenlied) with Norse mythology but, I argue, with a fundamental Christian slant.

Lectures

Lectures

Wagner’s use of Germanic and Norse sources in the Ring of the Nibelung. A clue to his Christian theology?

 

Forthcoming:

 
 
 

Project funding

This project is made possible through a Leverhulme Trust Major Research Fellowship

leverhulme trust logo

 

Parsifal copyright Bayreuth Festspiele Enrico Nawrath 250px

Scene from Parsifal, Bayreuther Festspiele 2011 © Bayreuth Festspiele/Enrico Nawrath

Department of Theology and Religious Studies

University of Nottingham
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

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