of superstition make his treatise a useful example of the seventeenth-century debate - a debate that was the prelude to the late eighteenth-century construction of popular religion as an object of scholarship.34
The whole debate was raised to a higher intellectual level by a group of contemporary critics of popular beliefs in Holland linked to the first or 'radical Enlightenment', as Jonathan Israel has called it: these included Pierre Bayle, Anthony van Dale, and above all Balthasar Bekker.35 Bekker, a university graduate in theology and pastor in the university town of Franeker and then in Amsterdam, attempted to establish a phenomenology of the practice of magic and the belief in the intervention of the devil, by drawing examples from his pastoral experience in both towns. His two-volume synthesis De betoverdeweereld (The enchanted world, 1691-93) is perhaps best known for its title, which was later immortalized by Max Weber in the famous expression 'die Entzauberung der Welt' ('the disenchantment of the world'). Bekker's richly documented work was quickly translated into French, English, and German and it provoked a truly international debate. Despite the condemnation of the book by the Synod of Holland - which denounced its ironic criticism of exegetic and theological dogmatism and its scepticism regarding any form of demonology - Bekker remained for many a beacon in the battle against superstition.36
Roughly a century after this phase of critical cataloguing of popular practices and beliefs, a second phenomenon changed the perception of popular religion: this was the discovery of 'the people' in the second half of the eighteenth century. Popular religion, magic, and superstition now became the object of a new kind of scholarship. The older studies of'curiosities' by learned antiquarians developed into systematic research strategies for obtaining knowledge of popular culture, considered as the heart of 'the people' (das Volk), and indeed of the 'nation'. Traditionally, Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803) is credited with having first formulated, around 1775, theories about the identity of the people, and the opposition between popular culture (Kultur des Volkes) and learned culture (Kultur der Gelehrten).37 Herder rightly distinguished between three accepted meanings of das Volk: an ethnic meaning (populus), a political meaning (natio), and a social meaning (vulgus, plebs). Peter Burke has characterized this discovery of the people as a 'movement of cultural primitivism in which the ancient, the distant and the popular were all equated'.38 This may be true, yet the discovery was embedded in a broad European movement of rising national consciousness that began simultaneously in almost all of the countries of western Europe.39 In the Dutch Republic, for instance, the Leiden scholar Johannes Le Francq van Berkhey (1729-1805) drafted a remarkable
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