Rasmussen, “The Infidel and the Professor”

k11092Earlier this year, while doing research for a forthcoming essay on the doux commerce thesis, I came upon Dennis Rasmussen’s excellent introduction to Smith and Rousseau, The Problems and Promise of Commercial Society (2008). Rasmussen, an associate professor of political science at Tufts, does a wonderful job showing the often overlooked similarities between those two Enlightenment figures, and he writes in a clear, unaffected style that many academics fail to achieve. So I’m looking forward to his new book from Princeton, The Infidel and the Professor: David Hume, Adam Smith, and the Friendship That Shaped Modern Thought. The tensions in classical liberalism are becoming more apparent every day; its purported neutrality with respect to Christianity and other revealed religion, especially, seems more and more problematic. It is therefore worthwhile to go back to the beginning, to see whether liberalism has gone off the track in our era or is simply fulfilling its destiny.

Here’s a description of the new book from the Princeton website:

The story of the greatest of all philosophical friendships—and how it influenced modern thought

David Hume is widely regarded as the most important philosopher ever to write in English, but during his lifetime he was attacked as “the Great Infidel” for his skeptical religious views and deemed unfit to teach the young. In contrast, Adam Smith was a revered professor of moral philosophy, and is now often hailed as the founding father of capitalism. Remarkably, the two were best friends for most of their adult lives, sharing what Dennis Rasmussen calls the greatest of all philosophical friendships. The Infidel and the Professor is the first book to tell the fascinating story of the friendship of these towering Enlightenment thinkers—and how it influenced their world-changing ideas.

The book follows Hume and Smith’s relationship from their first meeting in 1749 until Hume’s death in 1776. It describes how they commented on each other’s writings, supported each other’s careers and literary ambitions, and advised each other on personal matters, most notably after Hume’s quarrel with Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Members of a vibrant intellectual scene in Enlightenment Scotland, Hume and Smith made many of the same friends (and enemies), joined the same clubs, and were interested in many of the same subjects well beyond philosophy and economics—from psychology and history to politics and Britain’s conflict with the American colonies. The book reveals that Smith’s private religious views were considerably closer to Hume’s public ones than is usually believed. It also shows that Hume contributed more to economics—and Smith contributed more to philosophy—than is generally recognized.

Jacoby, “Strange Gods”

Conversion is perhaps the most controversial subject in international religious freedom. Although the idea that people should be able freely to convert from one religion to another is widely accepted in the West, even among religious believers, it is not widely accepted elsewhere, especially in Muslim-majority countries, where conversion from Islam is often still illegal. In fact, although human rights advocates insist that the right to convert is part of international law, the status of the right is somewhat ambiguous.

In February, Penguin Random House will release a new history of conversion, Strange Gods: A Secular History of Conversion, by writer Susan Jacoby. Looks interesting, though grouping George W. Bush and Muhammad Ali together in the same category seems a little odd. Jacoby argues, among other things, that the idea of individual religious choice is a product of the secular Enlightenment–which may explain why the non-Western world is still deeply suspicious.

Here’s the publisher’s description:

9780375423758In a groundbreaking historical work that addresses religious conversion in the West from an uncompromisingly secular perspective, Susan Jacoby challenges the conventional narrative of conversion as a purely spiritual journey. From the transformation on the road to Damascus of the Jew Saul into the Christian evangelist Paul to a twenty-first-century “religious marketplace” in which half of Americans have changed faiths at least once, nothing has been more important in the struggle for reason than the right to believe in the God of one’s choice or to reject belief in God altogether.

Focusing on the long, tense convergence of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—each claiming possession of absolute truth—Jacoby examines conversions within a social and economic framework that includes theocratic coercion (unto torture and death) and the more friendly persuasion of political advantage, economic opportunism, and interreligious marriage. Moving through time, continents, and cultures—the triumph of Christianity over paganism in late antiquity, the Spanish Inquisition, John Calvin’s dour theocracy, Southern plantations where African slaves had to accept their masters’ religion—the narrative is punctuated by portraits of individual converts embodying the sacred and profane. The cast includes Augustine of Hippo; John Donne; the German Jew Edith Stein, whose conversion to Catholicism did not save her from Auschwitz; boxing champion Muhammad Ali; and former President George W. Bush. The story also encompasses conversions to rigid secular ideologies, notably Stalinist Communism, with their own truth claims.

Finally, Jacoby offers a powerful case for religious choice as a product of the secular Enlightenment. In a forthright and unsettling conclusion linking the present with the most violent parts of the West’s religious past, she reminds us that in the absence of Enlightenment values, radical Islamists are persecuting Christians, many other Muslims, and atheists in ways that recall the worst of the Middle Ages.

Winterer, “American Enlightenments”

From Yale University Press, a new intellectual history of America after the Revolution, American Enlightenments: Pursuing Happiness in the Age of Reason, by Caroline Winterer (Stanford). The publisher’s description follows:

d55b12cf44c33ef5c1c02428f6c1dd26A provocative reassessment of the concept of an American golden age of European-born reason and intellectual curiosity in the years following the Revolutionary War:

The accepted myth of the “American Enlightenment” suggests that the rejection of monarchy and establishment of a new republic in the United States in the eighteenth century was the realization of utopian philosophies born in the intellectual salons of Europe and radiating outward to the New World. In this revelatory work, Stanford historian Caroline Winterer argues that a national mythology of a unitary, patriotic era of enlightenment in America was created during the Cold War to act as a shield against the threat of totalitarianism, and that Americans followed many paths toward political, religious, scientific, and artistic enlightenment in the 1700s that were influenced by European models in more complex ways than commonly thought. Winterer’s book strips away our modern inventions of the American national past, exploring which of our ideas and ideals are truly rooted in the eighteenth century and which are inventions and mystifications of more recent times.

Smitten, “The Life of William Robertson”

This month, Edinburgh University Press released The Life of William Robertson: Minister, Historian, and Principal by Jeffrey R. Smitten (Utah State University). The publisher’s description follows:

life-of-william-robertsonA prominent figure in the Scottish Enlightenment, William Robertson differed from his contemporaries, such as Voltaire, Hume and Gibbon, because he used the critical tools of the Enlightenment to strengthen religion, not to attack it. As an historian, he helped shape 18th-century historiography. As a minister of the Church of Scotland, he sought to make the church fit for a polite age. And, as principal of the University of Edinburgh, he presided over a flourishing of intellectual inquiry in the midst of the Enlightenment. But despite his European fame, he was a controversial figure. Drawing extensively on his unpublished correspondence, Jeffrey Smitten captures both the man and his work in his own words. By foregrounding Robertson’s religious outlook, Smitten gives us a more contextualised and nuanced interpretation of Robertson’s motives, intentions and beliefs than we have had before.

Palmeri, “State of Nature, Stages of Society”

In March, the Columbia University Press will release “State of Nature, Stages of Society: Enlightenment Conjectural History and Modern Social Discourse,” by Frank Palmeri (University of Miami).  The publisher’s description follows:

Frank Palmeri sees the conjectural histories of Rousseau, Hume, Herder, and other Enlightenment philosophers as a template for the development of the 9780231175166social sciences in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Without documents or memorials, these thinkers, he argues, employed conjecture to formulate a naturalistic account of society’s commercial and secular progression.

Palmeri finds evidence of speculative frameworks in the political economy of Malthus, Martineau, Mill, and Marx. He traces the influence of speculative thought in the development of anthropology and ethnography in the 1860s, the foundational sociology of Comte and Spencer, and the sociology of religion pioneered by Weber, Durkheim, and Freud. Conjectural histories reveal a surprising ambivalence toward progress, modernity, and secularization among leading thinkers of the time, an attitude that affected texts as varied as Darwin’s Descent of Man, Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morality, and the novels of Walter Scott, George Eliot, and H.G. Wells. Establishing the critical value of conjectural thinking in the study of modern forms of knowledge, Palmeri concludes his investigation with its return in the work of Foucault and in recent histories on early religion, political organization, and material life.

Lehner, “The Catholic Enlightenment”

This month, Oxford University Press releases “The Catholic Enlightenment: The Forgotten History of a Global Movement” by Ulrich L. Lehner (Marquette University). The publisher’s description follows:

“Whoever needs an act of faith to elucidate an event that can be explained by reason is a fool, and unworthy of reasonable thought.” This line, spoken by the notorious 18th-century libertine Giacomo Casanova, illustrates a deeply entrenched perception of religion, as prevalent today as it was hundreds of years ago. It is the sentiment behind the narrative that Catholic beliefs were incompatible with the Enlightenment ideals. Catholics, many claim, are superstitious and traditional, opposed to democracy and gender equality, and hostile to science. It may come as a surprise, then, to learn that Casanova himself was a Catholic. In The Catholic Enlightenment, Ulrich L. Lehner points to such figures as representatives of a long-overlooked thread of a reform-minded Catholicism, which engaged Enlightenment ideals with as much fervor and intellectual gravity as anyone. Their story opens new pathways for understanding how faith and modernity can interact in our own time.

Lehner begins two hundred years before the Enlightenment, when the Protestant Reformation destroyed the hegemony Catholicism had enjoyed for centuries. During this time the Catholic Church instituted several reforms, such as better education for pastors, more liberal ideas about the roles of women, and an emphasis on human freedom as a critical feature of theology. These actions formed the foundation of the Enlightenment’s belief in individual freedom. While giants like Spinoza, Locke, and Voltaire became some of the most influential voices of the time, Catholic Enlighteners were right alongside them. They denounced fanaticism, superstition, and prejudice as irreconcilable with the Enlightenment agenda.

In 1789, the French Revolution dealt a devastating blow to their cause, disillusioning many Catholics against the idea of modernization. Popes accumulated ever more power and the Catholic Enlightenment was snuffed out. It was not until the Second Vatican Council in 1962 that questions of Catholicism’s compatibility with modernity would be broached again.

Ulrich L. Lehner tells, for the first time, the forgotten story of these reform-minded Catholics. As Pope Francis pushes the boundaries of Catholicism even further, and Catholics once again grapple with these questions, this book will prove to be required reading.

Zaretsky, “Boswell’s Enlightenment”

I’ve always thought of James Boswell simply as the biographer of Samuel boswellJohnson. Apparently, he had an interior life himself. A new book from Harvard University Press, Boswell’s Enlightenment, seems interesting as an intellectual history of his attempt to reconcile Christianity and the Enlightenment–an attempt with which many of Boswell’s contemporaries, including some Framers of the American Constitution, were well acquainted. The author, Robert Zaretsky, is a professor at the University of Houston. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Throughout his life, James Boswell struggled to fashion a clear account of himself, but try as he might, he could not reconcile the truths of his era with those of his religious upbringing.Boswell’s Enlightenment examines the conflicting credos of reason and faith, progress and tradition that pulled Boswell, like so many eighteenth-century Europeans, in opposing directions. In the end, the life of the man best known for writing Samuel Johnson’s biography was something of a patchwork affair. As Johnson himself understood: “That creature was its own tormentor, and I believe its name was BOSWELL.”

Few periods in Boswell’s life better crystallize this internal turmoil than 1763–1765, the years of his Grand Tour and the focus of Robert Zaretsky’s thrilling intellectual adventure. From the moment Boswell sailed for Holland from the port of Harwich, leaving behind on the beach his newly made friend Dr. Johnson, to his return to Dover from Calais a year and a half later, the young Scot was intent on not just touring historic and religious sites but also canvassing the views of the greatest thinkers of the age. In his relentless quizzing of Voltaire and Rousseau, Hume and Johnson, Paoli and Wilkes on topics concerning faith, the soul, and death, he was not merely a celebrity-seeker but—for want of a better term—a truth-seeker. Zaretsky reveals a life more complex and compelling than suggested by the label “Johnson’s biographer,” and one that 250 years later registers our own variations of mind.

Bulman, “Anglican Enlightenment”

This April, Cambridge University Press will release “Anglican Enlightenment: Orientalism, Religion and Politics in England and its Empire, 1648–1715” by William Bulman (Lehigh University).  The publisher’s description follows:

Anglican EnlightenmentAn original interpretation of the early European Enlightenment and the religious conflicts that rocked England and its empire under the later Stuarts. In a series of vignettes that move between Europe and North Africa, William Bulman shows that this period witnessed not a struggle for and against new ideas and greater freedoms, but a battle between several novel schemes for civil peace. Bulman considers anew the most apparently conservative force in post-Civil War English history: the conformist leadership of the Church of England. He demonstrates that the Church’s historical scholarship, social science, pastoral care, and political practice amounted not to a culturally backward spectacle of intolerance, but to a campaign for stability drawn from the frontiers of erudition and globalisation. In seeking to sever the link between zeal and chaos, the church and its enemies were thus united in an Enlightenment project, but bitterly divided over what it meant in practice.

Bregoli, “Mediterranean Enlightenment: Livornese Jews, Tuscan Culture, and Eighteenth-Century Reform”

Next month, Stanford University Press will publish Mediterranean Enlightenment: 080478650XLivornese Jews, Tuscan Culture, and Eighteenth-Century Reform, by Francesca Bregoli (CUNY Queens). The publisher’s description follows.

The Mediterranean port of Livorno was home to one of the most prominent and privileged Jewish enclaves of early modern Europe. Focusing on Livornese Jewry, this book offers an alternative perspective on Jewish acculturation during the eighteenth century, and reassesses common assumptions about the interactions of Jews with outside culture and the impact of state reforms on the corporate Jewish community. Working from a vast array of previously untapped archival and literary sources, Francesca Bregoli combines cultural analysis with a study of institutional developments to investigate Jewish responses to Enlightenment thought and politics, as well as non-Jewish perceptions of Jews, through an exploration of Jewish-Christian cultural exchange, sites of sociability, and reformist policies. Mediterranean Enlightenment shows that Livornese Jewish scholars engaged with Enlightenment ideals and aspired to contribute to society at large without weakening the boundaries of traditional Jewish life. By arguing that the privileged status of Livorno Jewry had conservative rather than liberalizing effects, it also challenges the notion that economic utility facilitates Jewish integration, nuancing received wisdom about processes of emancipation in Europe.

Burson & Lehner, eds., “Enlightenment and Catholicism in Europe”

This month the University of Notre Dame Press publishes Enlightenment and Enlightenment and Catholicism in EuropeCatholicism in Europe: A Transnational History, what looks to be an extremely interesting collection of essays on the intellectual history of the Enlightenment edited by Jeffrey D. Burson (Georgia Southern University) and Ulrich N. Lehner (Marquette University). The publisher’s description follows.

In recent years, historians have rediscovered the religious dimensions of the Enlightenment. This volume offers a thorough reappraisal of the so-called “Catholic Enlightenment” as a transnational Enlightenment movement. This Catholic Enlightenment was at once ultramontane and conciliarist, sometimes moderate but often surprisingly radical, with participants active throughout Europe in universities, seminaries, salons, and the periodical press.

In Enlightenment and Catholicism in Europe: A Transnational History, the contributors, primarily European scholars, provide intellectual biographies of twenty Catholic Enlightenment figures across eighteenth-century Europe, many of them little known in English-language scholarship on the Enlightenment and pre-revolutionary eras. These figures represent not only familiar French intellectuals of the Catholic Enlightenment but also Iberian, Italian, English, Polish, and German thinkers. The essays focus on the intellectual and cultural factors influencing the lives and works of their subjects, revealing the often global networks of intellectual sociability and reading that united them both to the Catholic Enlightenment and to eighteenth-century policies and projects. The volume, whose purpose is to advance the understanding of a transnational “Catholic Enlightenment,” will be a reliable reference for historians, theologians, and scholars working in religious studies.

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