Biography of Miguel de Unamuno

As a professor, philosopher and politician, Miguel de Unamuno was a Spanish man of many talents. A prolific writer, he published a high volume of poems and plays throughout his life; however, it was his essays and novels that had the greatest impact on 20th-century Spain.

Born in the city of Bilbao, Spain, Unamuno was keenly interested in language and education even in his youth. He began his studies at the University of Madrid in 1880, eventually earning a doctorate in philosophy and literature. In 1891, he became a professor of Greek language and literature at the University of Salamanca. That same year, he married Concha Lizárraga, a woman he had loved since he was a child. Unamuno remained faithfully married to Lizárraga for the rest of his life, and together they raised nine children.

Unamuno faced several controversies in his life due to his political views and activities. Though he was elected president of the University of Salamanca in 1901, he was removed from his position in 1914 after he publicly voiced his support for the Allied movement in World War I (at the time, Spain was considered a neutral country during the war). Ten years later in 1924, he was exiled from the country after criticizing General Miguel Primo de Rivera, the country's then-ruler. Unamuno returned in 1931 and was restored to his previous position at the University of Salamanca, only to be removed once again in 1936 for criticizing the new ruler, General Francisco Franco.

His public disputes were not limited to politics; throughout his life, Unamuno served as a continual source of vexation for conservative Catholics and secular intellectuals alike, as he staunchly refused to align entirely with either ideology. Instead, he developed what became known as the "agony of Christianity"; Unamuno's proprietary philosophy dictated that Catholicism, along with all other religions, were only true insofar as they provided meaning and legitimacy to their followers. By rejecting both the wholehearted acceptance taught by Catholic doctrine and secular dismissal of religion altogether, Unamuno forced Spanish thinkers to wrestle with the complex nuances put forth by religion and progress rather than reconciling themselves to one of two sides.

Study Guides on Works by Miguel de Unamuno