Atheism, Religion and Enlightenment in pre-Revolutionary Europe

Atheism, Religion and Enlightenment in pre-Revolutionary Europe

Mark Curran


Royal Historical Society



An investigation into the influence of, and reaction to, the atheistic writings of the baron d'Holbach.
The Baron d'Holbach, a prominent figure in the French Enlightenment, is best known for his writings against religion. His prolific campaign of atheism and anti-clericalism, waged from the printing presses of Amsterdam in the years around 1770, was so radical that it provoked an unprecedented public response. For the baron's enemies, at least, it suggested the end of an era: proof that the likes of Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau were simply a cabal of atheists hell-bent on the destruction of all that was to be cherished about religion and society. The philosophes, past their prime and under fire, recognised the need to respond, but struggled to know which way to turn. France's institutional bodies, lacking unity and fatally distracted, provided no credible lead. Instead, the voice of reason came from an unlikely source - independent Christian apologists, Catholic and Protestant, who attacked the baron on his own terms and, in the process, irrevocably changed the nature of Christian writing.
This book examines the reception of the works of the baron d'Holbach throughout francophone Europe. It insists that d'Holbach's historical importance has been understated, argues the case for the existence of a significant "Christian Enlightenment" and raises questions about existing secular models of the francophone public sphere.

Mark Curran is the Munby Fellow in Bibliography, Cambridge University Library.


June 2012
2 black and white, 5 line illustrations
226 pages
23.4x15.6 cm
Royal Historical Society Studies in History New Series
ISBN: 9780861933167
Format: Hardback
Library eBook
Royal Historical Society
BISAC REL015000, PHI000000, HIS037030
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Table of Contents

The Virtuous Atheist
The Oral and Written Public Sphere
Books and Pamphlets
The Philosophe Response
Institutional Reactions in France
The Christian Enlightenment?
Beyond the Christian Enlightenment
Appendix 1. D'Holbach's Publications, 1752-1789
Appendix 2. Responses in French to d'Holbach's publications, 1752-1789
Appendix 3. The Corpus of Periodical Press Articles Produced in Reaction to d'Holbach's Publications


A well-written and well-documented study that will be of considerable interest to scholars working on eighteenth-century religion, the Enlightenment, and the intersection of the two. AMERICAN HISTORICAL REVIEW


As a contribution to the history of the public sphere in the age of Enlightenment, (this) study is a solid and impressive piece of work. HISTORY, July 2013

Author Bio

Munby Fellow in Bibliography, University of Cambridge

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