Durham Early Modern Group - Seminar Series; From Grotius To Richard Simon: The European Sources Of The English Enlightenment Debates On Christian Religion, 1650s – 1730s
The English Enlightenment is a case in point of the complexity of the relationships between Enlightenment and religion. England’s role was seminal in the elaboration and dissemination of a ‘Christian Enlightenment’, that is of the idea, developed by Cambridge Platonists, Locke, and moderate Anglicans such as William Warburton (1698 –1779), that the Christian religion was an eminently reasonable religion and that reason and revelation could be reconciled by identifying the moral fundamentals of the Christian faith. After the Restoration of monarchy in 1660, what was at stake in the English Enlightenment religious and philosophical debate was not a single doctrine, rather it was the authority of Scripture itself and the sacerdotal understanding of the church to sustain attacks from both Catholics like Richard Simon (1638-1712) and Deists like John Toland (1670-1722). Existing scholarly literature has generally presupposed an insular dimension of the English debates on religion. By focusing on the English reception of early modern Dutch and French philosophical, religious, and hermeneutical texts from the 1650s to the 1730s, I argue that Dutch and French thinkers made an essential contribution both to the diffusion in England of an historical-philological approach to Scripture and to an understanding of the utility of the clergy to secure social cohesion and civilization, which are deemed key to an understanding of English Enlightenment. I also argue that the engagement with Dutch and French ideas spanned the spectrum of orthodox and heterodox positions, thus making an essential contribution to the changes in the ways in which aspects relating to biblical interpretation and church authority were approached and debated in England at the threshold between the Reformation and the Enlightenment
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