The myths of modernity

This book offers a critical survey of religious change and its causes in eighteenth-century Europe, and constitutes a challenge to the accepted views in traditional Enlightenment studies. Focusing on Enlightenment Italy, France and England, it illustrates how the canonical view of eighteenth-century religious change has in reality been constructed upon scant evidence and assumption, in particular the idea that the thought of the enlightened led to modernity. For, despite a lack of evidence, one of the fundamental assumptions of Enlightenment studies has been the assertion that there was a vibrant Deist movement which formed the “intellectual solvent” of the eighteenth century. The central claim of this book is that the immense ideological appeal of the traditional birth-of-modernity myth has meant that the actual lack of Deists has been glossed over, and a quite misleading historical view has become entrenched.

The myth of Enlightenment deism 1 The myth of Enlightenment deism The myth of the deist movement The first hint of deism in the historical record is to be found in sixteenth-century Lyon. In 1563 Pierre Viret, a close colleague of the Protestant reformer Calvin, wrote the Instruction Chrétienne, in which he described various freethinkers who needed to be combated. Amongst them Viret mentioned those ‘qui s’appelent déistes, d’un mot tout nouveau’ (‘who call themselves deists, a completely new word’) and his description of them heavily emphasized their lack of

in The Enlightenment and religion
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The Enlightenment and modernity

The Enlightenment and modernity INTRODUCTION The Enlightenment and modernity The rationale of this book In historical studies and indeed most fields of the humanities, the terms modernity and Enlightenment are so frequently linked that either term almost automatically evokes the other. It has become an accepted commonplace, part of the historical canon, that modernity began in the Enlightenment. This begs the obvious but yet problematic question: what was the general character of the intellectual phenomenon we term the Enlightenment? Since the end of the 1960

in The Enlightenment and religion

The ‘public sphere’ and the hidden life of ideas 6 The ‘public sphere’ and the hidden life of ideas The hidden life of ideas The Enlightenment has been seen as the intellectual honey pot from which the origins of the modern world were to be sought. As Dorinda Outram has noted in her The Enlightenment (1995), philosophers and political commentators have interpreted the Enlightenment in ‘the hope of defining the meaning and future of the modern world. The Enlightenment is probably unique … in its attracting such interest and in the extent to which such

in The Enlightenment and religion
Jewish emancipation and the Jewish question

1 Struggles within Enlightenment: Jewish emancipation and the Jewish question The principle of modern states has enormous strength and depth because it allows the principle of subjectivity to attain fulfilment in the self-sufficient extreme of personal particularity while at the same time bringing it back to substantial unity and so preserving this unity in the principle of subjectivity itself

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Roman ‘tyranny’ and radical Catholic opposition

The Enlightenment and religion 5 Italy: Roman ‘tyranny’ and radical Catholic opposition This final case study provides another different context of the Enlightenment. The experience of Catholic dissidents in the Italian peninsular provides some similarities with the struggles in France, but the very different politico-religious context of the Italian peninsular means that differences tend to outweigh similarities. Differences aside, the point of this chapter is again to illustrate that broad politico-religious struggle – rather than the actions of the

in The Enlightenment and religion

Historians, religion and the historical record 2 Historians, religion and the historical record The origins of Enlightenment anticlericalism The politico-religious convulsions across Europe from the Reformation until the eighteenth century were numerous and bloody. The resulting religious divisions were enshrined in confessional states, but, as with the cases of Protestant England and Catholic France, religious minorities remained persecuted and disabled. It would have been truly miraculous if many Christians had not wearied of the constant conflict between

in The Enlightenment and religion
A case study in the construction of a myth

configuration. Leaving aside the various divisions in the debate over 81 The Enlightenment and religion the exact nature of the English Civil Wars, few if any historians doubt that the Puritan apostolic ideal of a presbyterian-style Church significantly informed not only religious debate in the those wars, but also important elements of political debate and action. Indeed deep divisions within the parliamentary camp were not a little to do with presbyterianism and its implicit egalitarian political model. Most commentators, however, have also asserted that Puritanism was

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The revolt of democratic Christianity and the rise of public opinion

The Enlightenment and religion 4 France: the revolt of democratic Christianity and the rise of public opinion This chapter focuses on the emergence of religious toleration in France and the degree to which it was brought about by broad politico-religious struggle rather than by the philosophes.1 The discussion will, therefore, not provide the usual Enlightenment studies degree of focus upon the philosophes. Much of the research necessary for a revision of the role of the philosophes in France has been accumulating for several decades, but there has not yet been

in The Enlightenment and religion

Conclusion Conclusion . Writing enlightenment I n the early days of 1712 Prince Eugene of Savoy undertook a key diplomatic mission to London to reinforce the commitment of Robert Harley’s ministry to the alliance against France in the negotiations over peace at Utrecht.1 With the Tories in the ascendancy, Eugene’s reputation as a stalwart defender of ‘our common liberty’ across Europe projected him as a defender of Whig principles. Long awaited by the Whig elites of London and Hanover, Eugene’s military prowess had endowed him with a powerful public

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