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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 churches and emigration from nineteenth-century Ireland

The book knits together two of the most significant themes in the social and cultural history of modern Ireland - mass emigration and religious change - and aims to provide fresh insight into both. It addresses the churches' responses to emigration, both in theory and in practice. The book also assesses how emigration impacted on the churches both in relation to their status in Ireland, and in terms of their ability to spread their influence abroad. It first deals with the theoretical positions of the clergy of each denomination in relation to emigration and how they changed over the course of the nineteenth century, as the character of emigration itself altered. It then explores the extent of practical clerical involvement in the temporal aspects of emigration. This includes attempts to prevent or limit it, a variety of facilitation services informally offered by parish clergymen, church-backed moves to safeguard emigrant welfare, clerical advice-giving and clerically planned schemes of migration. Irish monks between the fifth and eighth centuries had spread Christianity all over Europe, and should act as an inspiration to the modern cleric. Tied in with this reading of the past, of course, was a very particular view of the present: the perception that emigration represented the enactment of a providential mission to spread the faith.

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The Enlightenment and modernity

their present to the past, forging intellectual time-lines and traditions where none really existed. The following series of discussions represents an attempt to review some of the causes and contexts of religious change in Enlightenment Italy, France and England. Although to a degree different from each other in content and objective, the aim of the case studies is to illustrate how the notion that the Enlightenment founded ‘modernity’ has led to significant distortions in our understanding of religious and intellectual change. I wish to assert the fundamental role

in The Enlightenment and religion
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Roman ‘tyranny’ and radical Catholic opposition

‘national’ Enlightenments. What, then, was the relationship between the development of Enlightenment thinking on religion and the political realities of the peninsula? Two facts stand out above all others: the centrality of Rome to religious change and the evident decline in the international and peninsular influence of Rome. Rome was now perceived by Italian sovereigns as less capable of rallying extra-peninsular support to its defence, and so it is unthinkable that – regardless of whether the Enlightenment ever arrived or not – sovereigns would not seize the opportunity

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

pretence of Religion, were only grasping at Power’. As a consequence, he explained, some gentlemen refused to countenance both parties.28 Such letters are of limited value as evidence of religious reality – and certainly not for the existence of a deist movement or real religious change. After all, we know that clerics were prone to overstating the case for their own ends. Yet this letter has been cited as important evidence of the ‘transformation of the Puritan into a whig’, that in the transition to Whiggism the religious polity of presbyterianism was abandoned for a

in The Enlightenment and religion

that we realize that protagonists of the Enlightenment often thought in this manner. It does not, however, oblige historians to use the reasoning of the philosophes as a predicate to their own research on the question of public opinion in religious change. The distinction of the philosophes between the rude masses and the enlightened again implicitly raises the question of whether historians can locate any fruitful dividing line between the enlightened and non-enlightened. As we have seen, finding such a dividing line is very problematic indeed, simply because we now

in The Enlightenment and religion

religious change has been relatively neglected because it manifested itself in a traditional early modern politico-religious form, rather than in the ‘modernizing’ language of the philosophes. That the philosophes have been granted the credit for achievements that were not theirs is not really suprising. They themselves were prone to claim credit for victories of others against the establishment, even if – as in the suppression of the Jesuits in France – these were in fact victories for one wing of Catholicism against another. This circumstance cannot, however, form any

in The Enlightenment and religion
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are viewed in relation to each other. The type of diocesan histories undertaken by scholars as diverse as Robert Sauzet, Keith Luria and Bernard Peyrous provide a more realistic picture of religious change within France during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; resistance to episcopal discipline has been shown to be almost as common as acquiescence and, as both Sauzet and Luria demonstrate, the contrasting personalities and approaches of prelates often had a significant impact on the path of reform.10 Pierre Scarron of Grenoble adopted a very different

in Fathers, pastors and kings

movements and tendencies within Anglicanism have often been a focus of attention because of the perceived dynamism of religious change in early modern England, and also because of the recognition by most that developments there marked the earliest phase of the Enlightenment. Thus the Cambridge Platonists (1630s–80s, the most notable element of the Latitudinarian tendency) have been selected for detailed study on the basis of their desire for (relative) tolerance and their conception of reason as the arbiter both of natural and revealed religion. There is, however, little

in The Enlightenment and religion
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and religious change – and aims to provide fresh insight into both. There is a reasonable popular assumption that Irish emigration on a significant scale began only in the nineteenth century. Many regard the Great Famine as Ireland’s mass migration ‘year zero’, while others might be aware that the economic slump after the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815 prompted consistent outward movement. Although there is some truth to both points, emigration from Ireland before 1815 was by no means negligible, and each of the three major churches in Ireland consequently had

in Population, providence and empire