Soren Kierkegaard is often regarded as the father of existentialism. Long before it became popular in the 1950s, and associated with atheistic writers such as Sartre and Camus, Kierkegaard, a devout Christian, was addressing existentialism's major themes: the Absurd, isolation, anxiety, ethical responsibility in the face of ethical uncertainty and--most importantly in The Sickness Unto Death--despair. Around the time John Stuart Mill was attacking conformity in the public sphere, Kierkegaard was attacking it in the religious, exhorting people to reject institutional authorities, such as the Danish National Church, and engage on a personal level with Biblical texts. Acceptance of a God who was unknowable could only be achieved through a leap of faith; consequently, Kierkegaard rejected Hegel’s claim that God, manifested as Reason, fulfills Himself dialectically through history. Even though Kierkegaard challenged Hegel’s temporal application of the dialectic, he did utilize it conceptually in The Sickness Unto Death, as a means of illustrating the different psychological stages people undergo in their journey towards spiritual health.
Any edition of the Sickness Unto Death is acceptable. The definitive English edition, published by Princeton University Press, is 201 pages and available from amazon.com for $12.92. To read a free public domain copy of the work, click here.
The following resources provide additional background, analyses, and bibliographies:
Wikipedia: "Soren Kierkegaard", "Philosophy of Soren Kierkegaard", and "The Sickness Unto Death"
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: "Soren Kierkegaard"
Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: "Soren Kierkegaard"
Dr. Anthony Storm, “Commentary on Sickness Unto Death” from Soren Kierkegaard Organization
David Kangas, “Kierkegaard, the Apophatic Theologian” Enrahonar 29 (1998):[masked] (apophatic = the belief that God can be known to humans only in terms of what He is not)
Jamie Turnbull, “Kierkegaard and Contemporary Philosophy” Acta Kierkegaardiana 2 (2007)
David F. Swenson, “The Anti-Intellectualism of Kierkegaard” The Philosophical Review 25 no. 4 (1916): 567-586.
Paul Muench, “Kierkegaard’s Socratic Point of View” in A Companion to Socrates, ed Sara Ahbel-Rappe and Rachana Kamtekar. Blackwell Publishing, 2006
Robert Adams, “Kierkegaard’s Arguments Against Objective Reasoning in Religion” (Professor of Philosophy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
"A Summary of The Sickness Unto Death" by Charles Bellinger, Associate Professor of Theology and Ethics, Texas Christian University
"Reading Notes on The Sickness Unto Death" by Lisa Blasch, ed. Mark Unno, University of Oregon
Youtube: Kierkegaard - Sea of Faith - BBC documentary, Part 1 and Part 2