The term 'Christian Enlightenment' no longer raises eyebrows; but this is a relatively recent phenomenon. A widespread consensus used to exist that the very essence of the Enlightenment - what made the Enlightenment 'enlightened' -was its attack on religion. According to Paul Hazard's influential interpretation, the express aim of the Enlightenment was to 'put Christianity on trial' and even to annihilate 'the religious interpretation of life'; similarly, Peter Gay described the Enlightenment as a 'war on Christianity'.1 Many scholars before and after agreed with this point of view. They described the Enlightenment as being - by its very nature - anti-Christian, anti-Church and even anti-religious.
We now know, however, that the relationship between Christianity and the Enlightenment was far more complex and interesting. We realize that these previous interpretations were overly focused on France, and erroneously tended to posit a single Enlightenment. Over the past few years, scholars have been 'pluralizing' the Enlightenment, the result being that we now see it not so much as a unified and Francophone phenomenon, but rather as a 'family of discourses'2 with many regional and national variations across Europe and in America. It has become clear that earlier interpretations were based on an impoverished view of religious traditions and perhaps even an outright disdain for them.
That the Enlightenment in Germany was a profoundly Protestant phenomenon has long been recognized. Now, however, it is becoming increasingly evident that in a great many other places in Europe, the Enlightenment was also not at war with Christianity. Rather, it took place within the Christian churches themselves. Scotland is a case in point. There, the church leader, university principal, respected historian and clergyman, William Robertson, espoused a 'broad, world-affirming theology' characteristic of the Christian Enlightenment as a whole.3 To him as to many other Christians across Europe, the Enlightenment was more about reinvigorating and redefining religion than destroying it. Indeed, a growing scholarship is now showing that there
Was this article helpful?
Discover the Secrets of Meditating Like an Expert In Just 7 Days Or Less And, Start Enjoying More Happiness, Peace, and Better Health, Right Now. Now, you too can learn to go deeper, and enjoy all the benefits of meditation, even if you have never tried to meditate ever before.