“A Wise, Enlightened, and Reliable Piety”: The Religious Enlightenment in Central and Western Europe, 1689–1789

Saturday, October 14, 2000
2:00 pm PDT

William Andrews Clark Memorial Library
2520 Cimarron Street

The Richard H. and Juliet G. Popkin Lecture in
Intellectual History and the History of Philosophy

—given by David Sorkin, University of Wisconsin, Madison

In recent decades a secularizing narrative has attempted to find in the Enlightenment the origins of modern culture, or modern politics and civil society. That secularizing narrative has created a canon of lay authors and figures that has little or no room for religious thinkers. Yet the eighteenth century was rife with theologians who, in the mainstream of the established religions and wielding considerable power, embraced the key elements of Enlightenment thinking as a means to rearticulate their faith. If we look at these figures collectively by crossing national and confessional boundaries, we can discern the existence of a distinct entity that may be called the religious Enlightenment. This lecture offers a preliminary definition of the religious Enlightenment and its place in the Enlightenment project.

David Sorkin has published extensively on the Haskalah, the Enlightenment movement in Jewish thought and theology of the late eighteenth century. His first book, The Transformation of German Jewry, 1780–1840 (1987), won the Present Tense/Joel H. Cavior award for the best book in Jewish history. His Moses Mendelssohn and the Religious Enlightenment (1996) has been translated into French and German. His latest book, published this year, is The Berlin Haskalah and German Religious Thought. Professor Sorkin is now working on a study of the relationship between religion and the European Enlightenment.

This program is made possible by the generous support of Richard H. and Juliet G. Popkin.