*March 18, 1897 (Nordrach, Germany)
†January 6, 1977 (Diessen am Ammersee, Germany)
Studying with Alexander Pfänder in Munich and Edmund Husserl in Freiburg, Gerda Walther’s early interests spanned across psychology, sociology and phenomenology. In her dissertation Toward an Ontology of Social Communities, Walther discussed the being of communities and the different modes of belonging and joining between individuals, groups and cultural artifacts. Her contemporanous Phenomenology of Mysticism already pointed to Walther’s future interests of interpreting parapychological phenomena with phenomenological means.
For an extensive bibliography see the timeline on Gerda Walther.
Gerda Walther was the daughter of Otto Walther, a renowned lung specialist from the Black Forest, and Ragnhild Walther, who was the daughter of the politician and Nobel Peace Prize winner Fredrik Bajer. Ragnhild Walther died when Gerda Walther was 6 years old. After Gerda Walther’s mother died, her father married Ragnhild‘s sister Sigrun. Gerda and her stepmother had a difficult relationship for the rest of their lives.
During her childhood and youth, Gerda Walther enjoyed an excellent education. She received privat lessons, she attended the Höhere Töchterschule Prinz Ludwigs-Höhe in Munich, and, after further privat lessons, she obtained her Abitur in 1915. Her father raised her Marxist-atheist according to his political orientation. In 1912, Walther also followed her father and became a member of a socialist party in which she was politically active. Through the notable connections of her father, Walther also enjoyed the acquaintance of Karl Kautsky, August Bebel, Gustav Eckstein, and Rosa Luxemburg. So she spent her vacations with the Kautsky family in Berlin, devoting herself to the study of Marxism.
In winter semester 1915/16, Walther began her studies at the Ludwig-Maximilians-University in Munich with the goal of becoming a socialite agitator. Her participation in Alexander Pfänder’s lectures on psychology and philosophy, however, changed her mind and she decided to change her major to philosophy. During her studies in Munich, she attended courses with Alexander Pfänder, Ernst von Aster, Karl Bühler, Clemens Baeumker, Aloys Fischer, Moritz Geiger, and Max Weber. At this time, however, she also became acquainted with Edmund Husserl’s works Logische Untersuchungen and immersed herself in his works. Because of her great interest in Husserl’s phenomenology, Walther decided to go to the Albert Ludwigs-University in Freiburg in 1917 to hear Husserl’s lectures. She remained in Freiburg for six semesters and heard lectures by Edmund Husserl, Martin Heidegger, Jonas Cohn, Joseph Geyser, and Lothar Heffter. However, before she was allowed to attend Husserl’s lectures, she had to visit Edith Stein’s philosophical kindergarten to learn more about Husserl’s phenomenology, which he taught at Freiburg. In Husserl’s view, Walther knew only phenomenology from Munich, which focused mainly on ontological investigations. Therefore, she attended Stein‘s course in SS 1917 to learn more about Husserl’s transcendental turn. During her time in Freiburg, Walther immersed herself in Husserl’s book Ideen zu einer reinen Phänomenologie und phänomenologischen Philosophie I: Allgemeine Einführung in die reine Phänomenologie and was actively involved in promoting and developing Husserl’s phenomenology. She worked on a detailed subject index to Husserl’s Ideen I, which was published in Husserl’s Jahrbuch für Philosophie und phänomenolgische Forschung in 1923. In addition, Walther was actively involved in the Freiburger Phänomenologische Gesellschaft and delivered the inaugural lecture entitled Zur Problematik von Husserls reinem Ich in 1918.
In the winter semester of 1919/20, Walther returned to Munich to complete her studies and begin her doctorate under the supervision of Alexander Pfänder. She decided to do her doctorate in Munich because she felt closer to Pfänder‘s philosophical and methodological approach. Walther soon began to focus on the ontological and phenomenological study of social communities, although Pfänder told her that he would not be able to help much in this area. In 1921, Walther received her doctorate with the dissertation Ein Beitrag zur Ontologie der sozialen Gemeinschaften: Mit einem Anhang zur Phänomenologie der sozialen Gemeinschaften and passes with summa cum laude.
After completing her doctorate, she wanted to continue her scientific work and went to the Ruprecht-Karls-University Heidelberg to study with Karl Jaspers and Heinrich Rickert with the goal of completing her habilitation. Her time as a student in Heidelberg, however, already came to an end in 1923. Due to inflation, Walther had lost a large part of her fortune and was therefore unable to continue her habilitation project. From this time on, Walther financed herself through various part-time jobs and secretarial positions, such as for the Baden Ministry of Culture and its president Dr. W. Hellpach, Dr. Hans Prinzhorn, as well as Albert von Schrenck-Notzing. Despite this financial distress, Walther did not stop writing and publishing scientific texts. Her initial interest in phenomenology turned into an interest in parapsychological investigations from 1925 on, which she pursued until the end of her life. In the field of parapsychology, she wrote numerous scientific texts and became a recognized figure. Although Walther was unable to establish herself in the field of philosophy, her later work on parapsychology remained faithful to the phenomenological teachings of Alexander Pfänder and Edmund Husserl, using them as a basis for grasping paranormal experiences.
Julia Mühl-Sawatzki (UPB)
Walther, Gerda (1922): Ein Beitrag zur Ontologie der sozialen Gemeinschaften: Mit einem Anhang zur Phänomenologie der sozialen Gemeinschaften, Halle (Saale): Niemeyer.
Walther, Gerda (1923): Ausführliches Sachregister zu Edmund Husserls “Ideen zu einer reinen Phänomenologie und phänomenologischen Philosophie” Bd. 1, Halle (Saale): Niemeyer.
Walther, Gerda (1923): ‘Zur Ontologie der sozialen Gemeinschaften’, Jahrbuch für Philosophie und phänomenologische Forschung 6, 2-158.
Walther, Gerda (1923): Zur Phänomenologie der Mystik, Halle (Saale): Niemeyer.
Walther, Gerda (1925): ‘Zur Psychologie der sogenannten “moral insanity”‘, Japanisch-deutsche Zeitschrift für Wissenschaft und Technik 3, 174-184.
Walther, Gerda (1927): ‘Zum Problem der Stigmatisierten von Konnersreuth’, Zeitschrift für Parapsychologie 2 (12), 751-753.
Walther, Gerda (1927): ‘Zur innenpsychischen Struktur der Schizophrenie’, Zeitschrift für die gesamte Neurologie und Psychiatrie 108, 56-85.
Walther, Gerda (1928): ‘Betreffend Kierkegaards „Psychologie der Verzweiflung”: Nachtrag zu dem in Heft IV/4 erschienenen Aufsatz „Kierkegaards Psychologie der Verzweiflung”’, Zeitschrift für Menschenkunde, Blätter für Charakterologie und angewandte Psychologie 4 (6), 336.
Walther, Gerda (1928): ‘Ludwig Klages und sein Kampf gegen den “Geist”‘, Philosophischer Anzeiger 3 (1), 48-90.
Walther, Gerda (1928): ‘Sören Kierkegaards Psychologie der Verzweiflung’, Zeitschrift für Menschenkunde, Blätter für Charakterologie und angewandte Psychologie 4 (4), 208-219.
Walther, Gerda (1930): ‘Ludwig Klages y su lucha centra el «espíritu»’, Revista de Occidente 87, 265-294.
Walther, Gerda (1930): ‘Ludwig Klages y su lucha centra el «espíritu» (Conclusión)’, Revista de Occidente 88, 117-136.
Walther, Gerda (1931): Review: Oesterreich Traugott Konstantin, Die Probleme der Einheit und der Spaltung des Ich, Zeitschrift für Parapsychologie 6 (4), pp. 207-208.
Walther, Gerda (1938): Ahnen und Schauen unserer germanischen Vorfahren, im Lichte der Parapsychologie, Leipzig: Hummel.
Walther, Gerda (1955): A Plea for the Introduction of Edmund Husserl’s Phenomenological Methods into Parapsychology, in E. Garrett (ed.), Proceedings of the First International Conference of Parapsychological Studies, New York, Parapsychology Foundation, pp. 114-115.
Walther, Gerda (1955): ‘Die Bedeutung der phänomenologischen Methode Edmund Husserls für die Parapsychologie’, Psychophysikalische Zeitschrift 1, 22-29 & 37-40.
Walther, Gerda (1956) Review: Conrad-Martius Hedwig, Utopien der Menschenzüchtung, Natur und Kultur 48, pp. 148.
Walther, Gerda (1957): Review: Meyer Rudolf, Der Gral und seine Hüter, Natur und Kultur 49, pp. 191.
Walther, Gerda (1957): Review: Schrödter Willy, Geschichte und Lehren der Rosenkreuzer, Natur und Kultur 49, pp. 191.
Walther, Gerda (1958): ‘Zum Problem der Visionen’, Philosophisches Jahrbuch 66, 347-354.
Walther, Gerda (1960): Zum anderen Ufer: Vom Marxismus und Atheismus zum Christentum, Reichl, Remagen.
Walther, Gerda (1962): ‘Hans Driesch: Pioneer researcher’, Tomorrow 10, 57-66.
Springer Book Series “Women in the History of Philosophy and Sciences”
DeGruyter Book Series “Women Philosophers Heritage Collection” (forthcoming)
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