, Volume 51, Issue 3, pp 365–378 | Cite as

God as Thou and Prayer as Dialogue: Martin Buber’s Tools for Reconciliation



‘Prayer’ can be defined as ‘the offering, in public worship or private devotion, of petition, confession, adoration, or thanksgiving to God; also the form of words in which such an offering is made’ (cf. Cohn-Sherbok 2010). In addition to this simple definition it could be said that there are different forms of prayer: some are vocal and articulate and others are only mental in nature; some prayers are communal and liturgical and other prayers are spontaneous or at least composed by the one saying the prayer (cf. Stump 1999). Accordingly, it is evident that there are manifold intricacies involved in any characterisation of ‘prayer’. In this article my aims are twofold. First, I explore the implications of Martin Buber’s philosophy, particularly of his conception of God as Thou for our understanding of ‘prayer’; second, I will argue that Buber’s understanding of ‘prayer’ as dialogue serves as a way for the individual to seek reconciliation with itself, with others, and with God.


Martin Buber Prayer Hasidism Reconciliation 


  1. Abrahams, I. (1908). Some Rabbinic ideas on prayer. The Jewish Quarterly Review, 20(2), 272–293.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Adams, R. M. (2003). The silence of God in the thought of Martin Buber. Philosophia, 30, 51–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bergmann, H. (1927–1928). ‘Der physiker whitehead,’ Die Kreatur, Berlin, Vol. II [1927–28], pp. 356–362.Google Scholar
  4. Bible, T. (1986). RSV. London and Glasgow: Fontana Books.Google Scholar
  5. Blenkinsop, D. (2004). ‘Martin Buber’s “Education”: Imitating God, the Developmental Rationalist’, in Philosophy of Education, pp. 79–87.Google Scholar
  6. Bodin, Per-Arne. (1990). ‘Boris Pasternak and the christian tradition’, in Forum for Modern Languages Studies, Vol. XXVI, No. 4, pp. 382–401.Google Scholar
  7. Buber, M. (1952). Eclipse of God: Studies in the Relation between Religion and Philosophy, Friedman, M., (trans.). New York: Harper & Brothers.Google Scholar
  8. Buber, M. (1958). Hasidism and modern man (Maurice Friedman, trans.). New York: Harper and Row.Google Scholar
  9. Buber, M. (1960). The origin and meaning of Hasidism. New York: Horizon Press.Google Scholar
  10. Buber, M. (1969). Between man and man. London: Fontana Books.Google Scholar
  11. Buber, M. (1972). I and thou (W. Kauffman, trans.). NewYork: Charles Scribner’s Sons.Google Scholar
  12. Buber, M. (2004). I and thou. London and New York: Continuum.Google Scholar
  13. Burke, T. E. (1979). The eternal thou. Philosophy, 54(207), 71–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Calkins, M. W. (1911). The nature of prayer. Harvard Theological Review, 4(4), 489–500.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Casey, D. (1999). Levinas and Buber: Transcendence and society. Sophia, 38(2), 69–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Clack, B., & Clack, B. R. (2008). The philosophy of religion:A critical introduction. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  17. Cohn-Sherbok, Dan, (ed.) (2010), ‘Prayer’, The Blackwell Dictionary of Judaica, Blackwell Publishing. Blackwell Reference Online, last accessed 31 August 2010
  18. Evans, C. S. (1998). Faith beyond reason. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.Google Scholar
  19. Franks, W. P. (2009). Why a believer could believe that God answers prayers. Sophia, 48, 319–324.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Friedman, M. (1950), Martin Buber: Mystic, existentialist, social prophet, pp. 326–331, 428, The University of Chicago, June 1950. University of Chicago Library, Microfilm T 809.Google Scholar
  21. Friedman, M. (1976). Martin Buber and Asia. Philosophy East and West, 26(4), 411–426.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Friedman, M. (1988). Martin Buber’s life and works III: The later years 1945–1965. Detroit: Wayne State University.Google Scholar
  23. Friedman, M. (2001). Martin Buber: The life of dialogue. London and NewYork: Routledge.Google Scholar
  24. Friedman, M. (2002a). Hasidism and the love of enemies. In W. Wink (Ed.), Peace is the Way: Writings on Nonviolence from the Fellowship of Reconciliation. Orbis: New York.Google Scholar
  25. Friedman, M. (2002b). Martin Buber and the covenant of peace. In W. Wink (Ed.), Peace is the Way: Writings on Nonviolence from the Fellowship of Reconciliation. Orbis: New York.Google Scholar
  26. Gospel of Thomas,, last accessed 23/09/10.
  27. Guilherme, A., & Morgan, W. J. (2009). Martin Buber’s philosophy of education and its implications for non-formal adult education. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 28(5), 565–581.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Hartshorne, C. (1963). ‘Martin Buber’s metaphysik’, in Martin Buber, herausgegeben von Schilpp u (pp. 42–61). Friedman, Stuttgart: Kohlhammer Verlag.Google Scholar
  29. Hartshorne, C. (1967). “Buber’s metaphysics‘ The philosophy of Martin Buber. In Paul Arthur Schilpp & Maurice Friedman (Eds.), The Library of Living Philosophers, vol. 12 (pp. 49–68). La Salle: Open Court.Google Scholar
  30. Hasidism. (2007). In M. Berenbaum & F. Skolnik (Eds.), Encyclopaedia Judaica (pp. 393–434). Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA.Google Scholar
  31. James, W. (1902). The varieties of religious experience. London: Longmans.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Katz, S. T. (2006). Martin Buber in retrospect. In M. Zank (Ed.), New Perspectives on Martin Buber (pp. 255–266). Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck.Google Scholar
  33. Kelly, A. (1995). Reciprocity and the height of God: A defence of Buber against Levinas. Sophia, 34(1), 65–73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Kierkegaard, S. (1991). Practice in christianity. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  35. Lee, Nam-in. (2006). Problems of intersubjectivity in Husserl and Buber. Husserl Studies, 22, 137–160.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Lumsden, S. (2000). Absolute difference and social ontology: Levinas face to face with Buber and Fichte. Human Studies, 23, 227–241.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Mendes-Flohr, P. (1986). Martin Buber’s reception among Jews. Modern Judaism, 6(2), 111–126.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Morgan, W. J., & Guilherme, A. (2010). I and thou: The educational lessons of Martin Buber’s dialogue with the conflicts of his times, Educational Philosophy and Theory. Google Scholar
  39. Olsen, G. (2004). Dialogue, phenomenology and ethical communication theory. Proceedings of the Durham-Bergen Postgraduate Philosophy Seminar, II, 13–26.Google Scholar
  40. Pasternak, K. (1959). Doctor Zhivago. Milano: Feltrinelli.Google Scholar
  41. Phillips, D. Z. (1981). The concept of prayer. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  42. Putnam, H. (2008). Jewish philosophy as a guide to life: Rosenzweig, Buber, Levinas,Wittgenstein. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  43. Schleiermacher, F. (1999). The christian faith in outline. Edinburgh: T& T Clark.Google Scholar
  44. Shapira, A. (1999). Hope for our time: Key trends in the thought of Martin Buber. Albany: SUNY.Google Scholar
  45. Silberstein, L. J. (1989). Martin Buber’s social and religious thought: Alienation and the quest for meaning. New York and London: New York University Press.Google Scholar
  46. Stevenson, W. T. (1963). I-Thou and I-It: An attempted clarification of their relationship. The Journal of Religion, 43(3), 193–209.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Stroumsa, G. G. (1998). ‘Buber as an historian of religion: Presence, not gnosis’, in Archives de sciences socials des religions, 43e Année, No. 101, pp. 87–105.Google Scholar
  48. Stump, E. (1999). ‘Petitionary prayer.’ A Companion to Philosophy of Religion. Quinn, PL., and Taliaferro, C., (eds). Blackwell Publishing, 1999. Blackwell Reference Online, last accessed 31 August 2010
  49. Theunissen, M. (1984). ‘The other: Studies in the social ontology of Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre, and Buber’, C. Macann, trans. MA, MIT Press: Cambridge.Google Scholar
  50. Verber, M. (2007). Why even a believer should not believe that God answers prayers. Sophia, 46, 177–187.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Vermes, P. (1994). Buber on God and the perfect man. Oxford: Littman.Google Scholar
  52. Widmer, M. (2004). Moses, God and the dynamics of intercessory prayer:A study of Exodus 32–34 and Numbers 13–14. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck.Google Scholar
  53. Wodehouse, H. (1945). Martin Buber’s ‘I and Thou’. Philosophy, 20(75), 17–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Wood, R. E. (1994). Silence, being, and the between: Picard, Heidegger and Buber. Man and the World, 27, 121–134.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Wright, T. (2004). Beyond the eclipse of God: The Shoah in the Jewish thought of Buber and Levinas. In P. Atterton, M. Calarco, & M. Friedman (Eds.), Levinas and Buber:Dialogue and difference (pp. 203–225). Pittsburgh, PA: Duquesne University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Advanced Studies in HumanitiesUniversity of EdinburghEdinburghUK

Personalised recommendations