Chapter

The myth of Enlightenment deism

S. J. Barnett

in The Enlightenment and Religion

Published by Manchester University Press

Published in print January 2004 | ISBN: 9780719067402
Published online July 2012 | e-ISBN: 9781781700518 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7228/manchester/9780719067402.003.0002
The myth of Enlightenment deism

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This chapter discusses the reasons the myth of a deist movement has remained so important to Enlightenment studies, even when the evidence adduced for it has been markedly insufficient. It examines the claims for a deist movement, the actual numbers of verifiable deists, the problem of defining deism, and how the desire to identify the roots of and validate modernity has led to long-term distortion of historical evidence and subsequent interpretation. Furthermore, the fear of infidelity, antichristianism and heterodoxy that produced the witchcraft craze of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries also produced the early origins of the deist scare. In the eighteenth century, deists remained scarce and, aside from a few high-profile moments in France, never fulfilled the role assigned to them by admirers or detractors. In the twentieth century, deism was resurrected and imbued with new force by historians, and made to appear as one of the great contributors towards secular modernity.

Keywords: Enlightenment; Deism; deist movement; antichristianism; witchcraft craze; secular modernity

Chapter.  14283 words. 

Subjects: Modern History (1700 to 1945)

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