Hans Ruin – Being with the Dead

Describe your book

I explore how the nature and origin of historical consciousness, our sense of having and belonging to the past, can be traced back to the care for the dead. We care for the dead not only through burial, but through memory and traditions, and the different ways in which we maintain a bond to those who have been before us. This – I argue – is also where our sense of history and the past first take shape.

Why did you decide to publish it with a university press?

Stanford is by far the best publisher for advanced theoretical work on history and memory. When I look at my own reference list and at the book that have inspired me in my work, I note that they have often been published by the SUP.

Do you enjoy the writing process?

When a thought and a formulation finally finds its form, it is one of the most rewarding experiences you can have. But it can also be very frustrating. Not writing in your own mother tongue (mine is Swedish) requires an extra effort, where you sometimes have to accept that it does not always come out as you would have wanted it. 

What piece of advice might you give to young academics looking to follow in your footsteps?

To dare to follow your interests and instincts. To study history and foreign languages, and to be prepared to move outside the comfort zones of your own disciplines if your questions lead you there.

Who inspires you?

Many philosophers and theoreticians have been important, I can not even begin to name them all. But I always also find much inspiratation in literature and poetry, and drama.

What’s next?

I am engaged in several projects, some having to do with the intersection between philosophy and religion. I find this limit increasingly important to explore, as we move into a situation where religious identity is becoming more significant. The difference between a presumably “secular” and “non-secular” approach to theoretical and political and existential questions have to be questioned again in new ways. For this purpose I have thought and written about the origin of Christianity (Paul and Augustine) and explored such issues as spirit, sacrifice, asceticism, and prayer, from a philosophical-phenomenological perspective. 

Hans Ruin is Professor of Philosophy at Södertörn University in Sweden and the author of Being with the Dead, published by Stanford University Press in 2019