Centre for Ernst Bloch Studies

Director: Peter Thompson

The centre was founded in 2007 and partially funded by a British Academy Research Development Award in order to bring to attention the significant contribution that Ernst Bloch made to continental, radical and Marxist philosophy in the 20th century. Bloch's life spanned all of the major events of the 20th century and he was in many ways involved in most of them. Born in 1883 and dying 93 years later in 1977, he grew up as an assimilated Jew and the end of the 19th century, was confirmed as a Christian by his parents and on the same day declared his lifelong commitment to atheism. Intellectually he was a precocious young man and was all ready publishing advanced philosophical essays in his teens. He later became a member of both the Simmel and Weber groups and, as an engaged opponent of the First World War, he spent the period from 1914 to 1919 in exile in Switzerland. This was not to be his first period of exile. During the Weimar Republic his commitment to Marxism and revolution put him very high on the Nazi death list and, in 1933 he was again forced to emigrate, ending up in the United States where he wrote his Magnum opus Das Prinzip Hoffnung (The Principle of Hope), published in 1959.

Returning to East Germany in 1949, with the intention of helping to create the first socialist country on German soil he soon found himself on the wrong side of the Communist authorities who found that his unorthodox Hegelian and utopian commitment to change and revolution undermined the dogmatic orthodoxy of the Stalinist world. In 1961 he was on a lecture tour of the West when the Berlin Wall was built and decided that there was no longer any hope for the GDR and so stayed in the West. There he became a professor of philosophy at the University of Tübingen but also, more importantly, a significant influence on the radical student movement of the 1960s who were attracted precisely to his unorthodoxy and his commitment to the continuing relevance of hope and utopia.

Since his death in 1977, Bloch has sunk somewhat into obscurity and yet his influence was always significant. Theodor Adorno for example, maintained that everything he ever wrote was influenced by Bloch’s Spirit of Utopia (1918). His nuanced discussions of the role of religion from an atheist standpoint and his contention that religion was not merely a delusion but carried within it the 'invariant of direction' towards human liberation and exodus.

In the foreword to The Privatization of Hope (Peter Thompson (ed), Duke: University press, 2013)

Slavoj Zizek states that '[Bloch] is one of the rare figures apropos of whom we can say: fundamentally, with regard to what really matters, he was right, he remains our contemporary, he maybe belongs even more to our time than to his own.’

The Centre for Ernst Bloch Studies has already undertaken one-day conferences in 2009 and 2010, and will be undertaking further events in future. The Centre’s Director, Dr Peter Thompson, has published widely on Bloch and is a regular contributor to The Guardian and other media outlets on issues to do with religion, Marxism and Bloch. http://www.guardian.co.uk/profile/peter-thompson

At present there is one PhD student attached to the Centre – Cat Moir – who will soon be submitting her thesis on Bloch and Speculative Materialism and applications from interested candidates are very much welcomed.

Dr Johan Siebers (IGRS London) is also attached to the Centre as an honorary research fellow and, together with Peter Thompson and Cat Moir, is the initiator of a publishing project with Historical Materialism and Brill publishers of Leiden to publish, readers, edited volumes and monographs on Ernst Bloch and to begin the long process of translating all of Bloch’s works into English where that is not already the case. In this context the Centre extends a welcome to all those who are interested in publishing on Ernst Bloch or who would like to be involved in the translation of his works.