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.

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

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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

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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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James Baldwin’s Pragmatist Politics in The Fire Next Time

In The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin argues that the American dream is far from being a reality in part because there is much Americans do not wish to know about themselves. Given the current political climate in the United States, this idea seems just as timely as it did in the 1960s. Baldwin’s politics and thinking about race and religion are informed by an optimistic belief in the human capacity to love and change for the better, in contrast with Ta-Nehisi Coates, the heir apparent to Baldwin’s legacy. Considering current events, it seems particularly useful to turn back to The Fire Next Time. Not only does Baldwin provide a foundation for understanding racism in the United States, but more importantly, he provides some much-needed hope and guidance for the future. Baldwin discusses democracy as an act that must be realized, in part by coming to a greater understanding of race and religion as performative acts that have political consequences for all Americans. In this article, I examine the influence of pragmatism on Baldwin’s understanding of race and religion. By encouraging readers to acknowledge race and religion as political constructs, Baldwin highlights the inseparability of theory and practice that is a hallmark of both pragmatism and the realization of a democratic society. Furthermore, I argue that Baldwin’s politics provide a more useful framework than Coates’s for this particular historical moment because of Baldwin’s emphasis on change and evolving democracy.

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The Enlightenment and modernity

an easy key to investigating the broad intellectual manifestation of the years c. 1690–1790 that we have termed the Enlightenment. 1 The Enlightenment and religion That Enlightenment protagonists were secular in their outlook has also been part of the Enlightenment studies canon. Until the 1970s the characterization of the Enlightenment was most usually that of reason against religion. Since then many academics have preferred the formula reason versus the Church, recognizing that most of the enlightened still retained a belief in God, even if they were hostile to

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religion.1 It was not, however, until the second half of the seventeenth century that the deism scare really began to take shape. In 1654 the orthodox Catholic and Bordelais barrister Jean Filleau claimed that the Catholic reformer Jansen, Saint Cyran and five others had met in Bourgfontaine in 1621 in order to plan the destruction of French Catholicism and supplant it with deism.2 In England, by the late seventeenth and the early eighteenth centuries, many Anglican prelates seemed increasingly convinced – if we are to believe their testimony – of the existence of a

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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

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are more of an ideal than a possibility. Historical accounts are, therefore, by definition, interpretations: to write history we must interpret texts. So, in the 201 The Enlightenment and religion practice of historiography, rather than throw our hands up in horror at a long-recognized dilemma, we have little choice but to live with the problem of anachronism and try to remain aware of its dangers. One of the most important elements in the attempt to reduce the anachronistic in historical analysis is of course to set the subject of historical study as firmly as

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15 Re-examining ‘creationist’ monsters in the uncharted waters of social studies of science and religion Fern Elsdon-Baker The subject of a clash between scientific and religious world views is often repeated as a very real ‘fact’ in scholarly, policy and public discourse – with creationists being painted as the ultimate unenlightened monsters that threaten scientific, and by extension societal, progress. There is, so we are told, a real and inevitable clash between world views – one that within extreme iterations can only be negotiated by an outright rejection

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