US theologian and philosopher, born in Germany, whose work addressed the crucial implications for Christianity raised by existentialist philosophers of the twentieth century and who explored the relationship between theology and culture.
The son of a village pastor from Starzeddel, Brandenburg province, Tillich moved with the family to Berlin in 1900. He studied theology at the universities of Berlin, Tübingen, and Halle, and received his doctorate from Breslau in 1910. After serving as a military chaplain during World War I, he became a lecturer in theology at Berlin University and in 1924 was appointed professor of theology at Marburg University, moving to Dresden the following year. He also taught at Leipzig and in 1929 he accepted the chair of philosophy at Frankfurt.
During the 1920s, Tillich published numerous articles and papers examining religion and culture and preparing the ground for his magnum opus, Systematic Theology (three vols; 1951–63). For him, the key role of theologians was to ‘correlate’ the answers provided by the revelation of Christianity to the problems of being and nonbeing raised by existential philosophical analysis. He regarded God as ‘the ground of being’ and our existence, in effect, as part of God. Throughout his work, Tillich repeatedly emphasized the importance of culture, particularly symbolism, myth, and the arts in general.
Tillich was dismissed from his post at Frankfurt for his opposition to the Nazis and, at the invitation of the distinguished theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, moved to the Union Theological Seminary, New York, as professor of philosophical theology. He later taught at Harvard (1955–62) and also at the University of Chicago.