Religion and the Origins of the German Enlightenment

March 2006
196 pages
9x6 in
Rochester Studies in Philosophy
ISBN: 9781580462044
Format: Hardback
Library eBook
University of Rochester Press
BISAC PHI000000, HIS010000, REL108020

Religion and the Origins of the German Enlightenment

Faith and the Reform of Learning in the Thought of Christian Thomasius

Thomas Ahnert

Analysis of the close relationship between religion and secular learning in the works of one of the central figures of the early German Enlightenment, the jurist and philosopher Christian Thomasius (1655-1728).
The Enlightenment continues to be associated with the secularization and de-Christianization of intellectual culture in the West. And yet, religious thought played a far greater role in the emergence of the Enlightenment than is often recognized. In this book Thomas Ahnert analyzes the close relationship between religion and secular learning in the works of one of the central figures of the early German Enlightenment, the jurist and philosopher Christian Thomasius (1655-1728). Thomasius is now known mainly for his "enlightened" intellectual reform program, but Thomasius also believed that such reform necessarily involved a regeneration of Christian faith, which had been corrupted by self-interested clergymen and ecclesiastical institutions. This book is the first to examine the importance of Thomasius's complex religious beliefs for the entire spectrum of his main intellectual interests, which ranged from moral philosophy and law to history and the explanation of natural phenomena.

Thomas Ahnert is Lecturer in Early Modern Intellectual History at the University of Edinburgh.

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Table of Contents

Introduction Christian Thomasius and the Early German Enlightenment
Religion, Law, and Politics: Historical Contexts
Religion and the Limits of Philosophy
The Prince and the Church: The Critique of "Lutheran Papalism"
Ecclesiastical History and the Rise of Clerical Tyranny
The History of Roman Law
Natural Law [I]: The Institutes of Divine Jurisprudence
Natural Law [II]: The Transformation of Christian Thomasius's Natural Jurisprudence
The Interpretation of Nature
Conclusion: Reason and Faith in the Early German Enlightenment


Thomas Ahnert certainly makes a valuable contribution to the current research by examining Thomasius' role in this evolution of thought. -- Peter Schroeder, University College, London in JOURNAL OF ECCLESIASTICAL HISTORY The volume is a significant contribution to scholarship on Thomasius and on the Enlightenment generally. Ahnert has added strength to the historiographical paradigm shift now under way that acknowledges the important place of religion in the German Enlightenment and refuses simply to align German experience with developments in France. --Douglas A. Shantz, H-NET REVIEWS, January 2007

Guiding us through theological and juridical intricacies with exemplary clarity, Ahnert compellingly demonstrates the importance and individuality of Thomasius's religious thought. JOURNAL OF EUROPEAN STUDIES

Thomas Ahnert has achieved a major corrective to conventional wisdom about one of the German founders of the Enlightenment. By restoring religious concerns to their central place in Thomasius's thought, and by demonstrating contextually how his radically heterodox fideism changed but persisted, Ahnert has given us much to ponder about the role of religion in constituting the Enlightenment in German-speaking Europe and elsewhere. --Anthony J. LaVopa, Professor of History, North Carolina State University at Raleigh

This excellent book presents significant corrections to our understanding of the early German Enlightenment. Dr. Ahnert rejects the common idea that Christian Thomasius's exceptional theology was an aberrant anti-Enlightenment lapse and argues that it was intimately connected with both his natural law theory and his (hitherto neglected) natural philosophy. At the same time, the book raises broader questions about the nature of the Enlightenment. The work is based on impeccable and wide-ranging scholarship. --Knud Haakonssen, Professor of Intellectual History, University of Sussex, England

Author Bio

Thomas Ahnert is a lecturer in early modern intellectual history at the University of Edinburgh.

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