University of Cambridge > > Wolfson College Lunchtime Seminar Series > Lunchtime Seminar - The Odyssey of eighteenth-century scholarship and the entangled emergence of the Enlightenment

Lunchtime Seminar - The Odyssey of eighteenth-century scholarship and the entangled emergence of the Enlightenment

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Despite the importance of the Enlightenment in this era of renewed illiberal and authoritarian tendencies, much of the historical scholarship concerning it suffers from an often bewildering lack of consensus about exactly what the Enlightenment was, how socially or geographically widespread and diverse it was, how Eurocentric were its origins, and how secular were its inceptions and outcomes. My luncheon talk interrogates this lack of consensus by critically surveying the odyssey of scholarship concerning the Enlightenment in an effort to forge a more comprehensive and serviceable understanding of the cultural history of the period. By adapting the paradigm of l’histoire croisée—originally employed by historians of transnational cultural exchange and identity construction—to early modern developments, I hope to show how many currently regnant paradigms of Enlightenment study can be productively reframed as a process of cultural revolution whereby the many conflictive and discreet Enlightenments, so often the preoccupation of historical scholarship, can be reconsidered in light of their entangled, mutually constitutive, and shared intellectual genealogy. I argue that, when viewed in such a way, much of what has been considered the Enlightenment’s most radical, most definitive, most transformative, or most secular characteristics were unintended outcomes of a much longer arc of intellectual history. This long-range cultural revolution, although characterized by a preoccupation with moral and socio-cultural reform, often originated in debates over the religious implications of new discoveries in science, and the fruits of European exploration, conquest, and colonization.

This talk is part of the Wolfson College Lunchtime Seminar Series series.

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