University of Haifa Faculty of Law And ​Haifa Center for German and European Studies (HCGES)

Enlightenment beyond Radicalism:

Reasserting the Role of Faith in the European Enlightenment


University of Haifa, 4-6 January 2015

Convenors​: Fania Oz-Salzberger and Avi Lifschitz

Eighteenth-century studies witnessed in the last decade the intensification of scholarly interest in the status of religion in the Enlightenment. Although Jonathan Israel's large-scale project traces the roots of modernity to a minority of radical authors who refused to make any compromise with accepted theological dogmas, J. G. A. Pocock's ongoing work on the contexts of Gibbon's Decline and Fall suggests a distinctly theological grounding for a particular sort of Enlightenment. David Sorkin attempted to map a 'religious Enlightenment' across confessional divides and geographic-linguistic differences; Jonathan Sheehan argued that the origins of the 'Enlightenment Bible' lay not only in modern criticism but also in the activities of such religious sects as the Pietists.  The growing shelf of studies tracing the reception of Scottish and French ideas by the German and central-European Enlightenments suggests that religious discourse held sway in the translations and discussions of purportedly secular bodies of thought. Additionally, recent multi-authored volumes explore the contours of what they describe as a cross-European Catholic Enlightenment. It is now difficult to ignore the manifest presence of clergymen, theologically-minded scholars, and religious language and frames of mind in almost all venues of the public sphere in the eighteenth century, from coffee houses and salons to masonic lodges. Consequently, Enlightenment scholarship today faces the need for new and subtle examination of the multiple interfaces of religious and irreligious Enlightenment thought.

What was, then, the relationship between personal faith, religious dogma, established churches and Enlightenment thought in various locations across Europe and its colonies? Did the impetus for Enlightenment ideas and reforms come mainly from heterodox movements (Socinianism, Arminianism) as argued by Hugh Trevor-Roper a few decades ago, did it stem from more mainstream religious sources, or perhaps from individualized cultures of faith such as the offshoots of German pietism and French Jansenism? How did the various discourses of faith interact with the ideas and texts of secular, materialist, and atheist Enlightenment thinkers? This workshop aims to examine such questions against the background of different confessions and local configurations of eighteenth-century intellectual life. ​