1941, from German Existentialismus (1919), replacing Existentialforhold (1849), ultimately from Danish writer Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855), who wrote (1846) of Existents-Forhold "condition of existence," existentielle Pathos, etc. (see existential), and whose name means, literally, "churchyard."
A movement in twentieth-century literature and philosophy, with some forerunners in earlier centuries. Existentialism stresses that people are entirely free and therefore responsible for what they make of themselves. With this responsibility comes a profound anguish or dread. Søren Kierkegaard and Feodor Dostoevsky in the nineteenth century, and Jean-Paul Sartre, Martin Heidegger, and Albert Camus in the twentieth century, were existentialist writers.