Christian Mathematicians – Riemann

By Steve Bishop

(Disclaimer: The views expressed by guest authors do not necessarily reflect those of Guest articles are sought after for the purpose of bringing more diverse viewpoints to the topics of mathematics and theology. The point is to foster discussion. To this end respectful and constructive comments are highly encouraged.)

Bernhard Riemann 1826-1866

 George Fredrick Bernhard Riemann (1826-1866) was on born 17th September 1826 at Breselenz in Hanover. He was the son of a Lutheran pastor. Bruce White comments:

During his life, [Riemann] held closely to his Christian faith and considered it to be the most important aspect of his life. At the time of his death, he was reciting the Lord’s Prayer with his wife and passed away before they finished saying the prayer.

Riemann influenced the development of geometry, complex analysis, partial differential equations as well as Einstein who developed his idea of general relativity from Riemann’s geometry. As Hawking (2005, p. xi) puts it: “Albert Einstein could not have completed his general theory of relativity had it not been for the geometric ideas of Bernhard Riemann.”

One biographer commented that Riemann served Christ outside the pulpit as his father had served Christ in the pulpit.

He is perhaps most ‘famous’ for the Riemann Hypothesis – which states: “All non-trivial zeros of the zeta function have real part one half.” John Derbyshire (Prime Obsession, John Henry Press, 2003) describes it as the “great white whale of mathematical research” (p. x) . There is even a prize of one million dollars for a proof or disproof of it.

Cauchy-Riemann equations, Riemann surfaces and the Riemann mapping theorem are all named after him. He also gave his name to the following:

  • bilinear relations
  • conditions
  • form
  • function
  • integral
  • invariant
  • matrix
  • problem
  • sphere
  • zeta function
  • and a lunar crater (although he doesn’t appear to have been celebrated on a postage stamp!)

He died aged 40 after a long bout of pleurisy at Selasca Italy. Kneller (1911) writes:

Riemann’s metaphysical ideas, derived in part from Th. Fechner, are often bold even to singularity, and by times are merely fantastic, but they detract in no way from his religious fervour. His death, as related in the biographical sketch prefixed to his collected works, gives sufficient token of this.


Derbyshire, John (2003) Prime Obsession, John Henry Press

Hawking, Stephen ed. (2005) God Created the Integers Persus Books.

Kneller SJ, Karl Alois (1911) Christianity and the Leaders of Modern Science: A Contribution to the History of Culture in the Nineteenth Century London: B. Herder.

White, Bruce (nd) ‘Bernhard Riemann’

 Further resources

Mathematical papers of Riemann, mostly in German, can be found here and here

Riemann, Bernhard (2004), Collected Papers, Kendrick Press

Steve Bishop is the compiler of A Bibliography for a Christian Approach to Mathematics and the author of several articles on the relationship between faith and math. Look for future posts from him in this series on Christian Mathematicians.

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