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Press release

Press release

Doctoral thesis on C.S. Lewis’ relationship with philosophical idealism

Lilian Lindén.
Lilian Lindén

M.Th. Lilian Lindén’s doctoral thesis in Systematic Theology will be put forth for public defence at the Faculty of Arts, Psychology and Theology at Åbo Akademi University.

The thesis is titled C.S. Lewis and Idealism.

The public defence of the doctoral thesis takes place on Friday 14 June at 1.15 PM at the Armfelt Auditorium, Arken, Tehtaankatu 2, Turku. Professor Jason Lepojärvi, George Fox University, Oregon, USA, will serve as opponent and Professor Pamela Slotte Russo, Åbo Akademi University, as custos. You can also follow the defence online.


The dissertation examines the impact of philosophical idealism in its various forms on C.S. Lewis (1898–1963), mainly before he became a Christian. Three questions are in focus: which philosophical idealisms Lewis adhered to before becoming a Christian, how George Berkeley’s subjective idealism influenced him and what impact Owen Barfield had on Lewis in moving from realism to idealism.

One finding is that the Absolute Idealism that Lewis first embraced should be seen as more similar to realism than the solipsistic philosophy that Lewis developed after being influenced by Berkeley. This understanding allows a more precise dating of both when Lewis became an Absolute Idealist, which was earlier than previously assumed, and when he moved to the next phase, which was later than previously has been assumed.

Lewis was impressed by Berkeley in 1924, but two questions remained unanswered. These concerned whether nature and other selves existed independently of the self. Lewis addressed these questions in a 1928 paper called the “Summa”. Berkeley also provided Lewis with a vision of an omnipotent Spirit, which had not created once and for all, far back in history, but instead creates everything in a single, simultaneous and continuous act. The author proposes that Lewis held on to this vision throughout his life, which probably is the reason he expressed gratitude to Berkeley also as a Christian.

The analysis of the letters between Barfield and Lewis led to a new view on when the debate called “the Great War” started, which was later than previously assumed, and why it started, which was when Barfield immersed himself in anthroposophy and developed an occult view on imagination. Furthermore, the analysis revealed that the debate ended because of Lewis’s frustration with Barfield’s misunderstandings and instinctive revulsion at his deep dive into the more occult aspects of anthroposophy.

As a new view, it is also argued that Lewis received from Rudolf Steiner what he gave Barfield credit for, his most renown argument against naturalism that he used in the book Miracles (1947). Evidence for this is found in a private letter in which Lewis mentions Steiner with appreciation. The argument allowed Lewis to leave realism for idealism, that is, he left the view that matter is the most fundamental reality for a view in which Spirit is the most real. This paved the way, first for Berkeley and later, for Christianity.

Lilian Lindén can be reached by email lilian.linden@gmail.com.

The doctoral thesis can be read online through the Doria publication archive.

Click here for a press photo of the doctoral student.


Instructions for following the doctoral defence remotely:

To follow the defence, you need the Zoom software or the Google Chrome browser. You do not need to create a Zoom account to follow the defence. If you install the application, you participate by clicking on the meeting link, after which you should allow the link to open in the Zoom app.