Villanova Theology Professor Explores Bob Dylan's Musical Legacy Through Kierkegaardian Philosophy in New Book

Book cover of, "Bob Dylan and the Spheres of Existence"

VILLANOVA, Pa – Hailed as one of the best songwriters of all time, Bob Dylan is an American musician whose artistry has intrigued philosophers and pop-culture enthusiasts alike for decades. His themes of justice, freedom and faith resonate with individuals across generations and continents, even earning him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016.

In Bob Dylan and the Spheres of Existence, Christopher B. Barnett, DPhil, professor of Theology and Religious Studies at Villanova University, explores the influence of Dylan’s work through the lens of Danish Philosopher and Theologian Søren Kierkegaard. By establishing a theoretical approach to Dylan’s multifaceted compositions, the book helps readers better understand his music and its significance today.

“Scholarship on Dylan tends to slide between poles: he is either a polyphonous ‘trickster’ whose music has no definitive meaning or an inspired ‘prophet’ who champions determinate social, political and religious causes,” Dr. Barnett explains. “By reading Dylan’s corpus with the help of Kierkegaard’s theory of existential spheres, I think it’s possible to simultaneously account for Dylan’s use of different philosophical voices and his oft-professed belief in God and interest in religious themes and music.”

Interdisciplinary in nature, the book appeals to a broad audience of Bob Dylan fans, music critics and scholars—particularly those interested in existentialism and the works of Kierkegaard. “I aim to show that Kierkegaard’s concept of existential spheres is not only an excellent way to approach the Dane’s thought but also a theory of penetrating insight, which allows us to better understand art, culture and ultimately ourselves,” says Dr. Barnett.

Bob Dylan and the Spheres of Existence is a readable, knowledgeable and ultimately persuasive interpretation of Bob Dylan’s remarkable musical development in the prism of Kierkegaardian philosophy,” writes reviewer George Pattison, PhD, professor of Theology at the University of Glasgow. “Although primarily written for those who know their Street-Legal from their Highway 61 Revisited, Bob Dylan and the Spheres of Existence will also speak to all who are interested in the interactions between philosophy, faith and modern culture.”

Dr. Barnett, who earned his Doctor of Philosophy in Theology from the University of Oxford, has authored various publications on contemporary theology and philosophy, including Kierkegaard and the Question Concerning Technology (2019) and Historical Dictionary of Kierkegaard’s Philosophy (2022). At Villanova, he teaches courses on a range of subjects, including Faith, Reason and Culture; Theology and Film; and Kierkegaard and Holiness. Dr. Barnett also maintains a Substack where he provides insightful commentaries on various cultural topics such as movies, television, music and sports.

About Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences: Since its founding in 1842, Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has cultivated knowledge, understanding and intellectual courage for a purposeful life in a challenging and changing world. With more than 40 majors across the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences, it is the oldest and largest of Villanova’s colleges, serving more than 4,500 undergraduate and graduate students each year. The College is committed to a teacher-scholar model, offering outstanding undergraduate and graduate research opportunities and a rigorous core curriculum that prepares students to become critical thinkers, strong communicators and ethical leaders with a truly global perspective.