This article serves as an introduction to the collection of articles that are included within this special issue. It provides an explanation of the necessity of these articles as well as places them within the context of the historiographical debates surrounding “ancient theology” and “civil religion.”
In order to do this, it makes reference to well-known and significant individuals in the fields of Renaissance and Enlightenment studies, such as Daniel P. Walker and Frances A. What kinds of contributions did the Renaissance and the Enlightenment make to the development of the contemporary world?
Studies conducted by Yates, Charles B. Schmitt, Eugenio Garin, Cesare Vasoli, and Franco Venturi, in addition to more recent research conducted by Dmitri Levitin. In addition to this, it offers a concise summary of each contribution and situates the special issue within the framework of the academic discipline of global and comparative intellectual history.
1. Recent research on the “radical Enlightenment” has placed an emphasis on the theologico-political strategies that were adopted by this philosophical movement in order to cause a conception of the state that is “neutral” or “tolerant” in reference to religious (and possibly also non-religious) world views.
However, despite the fact that the notion of a “civil religion” is one of the most fundamental ideas used in this approach, the prehistory of this civic or political understanding of faith is still not very extensively investigated.
By investigating the links between the Renaissance concept of “old theology” and, by extension, the Enlightenment concept of “civil religion,” the purpose of this special issue is to attempt to bridge the aforementioned divide.
Although prominent academics such as Daniel P. Walker, Frances Yates, and Charles B. Schmitt have argued that the Renaissance concept of “ancient theology” proved essential to the event of the European and Anglo-American Enlightenment, and in particular led to a republican conception of civil religion that inscribes religious tolerance into the political constitution, the precise nature of this filiation and its meaning has until very recently remained to be explored.
What kinds of contributions did the Renaissance and the Enlightenment make to the development of the contemporary world? In addition, the implications of this movement in relation to the theological writings of the early eighteenth century have not received nearly enough attention.
These early eighteenth-century theological writings, despite their opposition to the secularist currents of the Enlightenment, similarly drew upon and reacted to the Hermetic tradition in an effort to make room for other religions within the framework of Christian theology.
The purpose of compiling this collection of articles was to make a contribution towards bridging such gaps in the existing literature.
2. One of the reviewers of the book, Guido Giglioni, stressed that the state, just like the bodies of all living people, is essentially susceptible and subject to the possibility of deterioration and annihilation.
According to Giglioni, in this conventional approach to depicting the nature of human communities, religion is often seen as both the agent of disease and, therefore, the remedy (as, for instance, discussed in Miguel Vatter’s essay on Machiavelli).
Between the late mediaeval and early modern periods, when religious divisions were often the explanation for or trigger for political and social unrest, reflections over the essence of divine creation and governance of the planet represented an integral part of the political thinking of the days (an example of this is often Jeremy Kleidosty’s article on Hobbes, who built his theory of political sovereignty on the experience of English war and therefore the notion that racial divisions were the root cause of war).
This collection of articles engages with this theologico-political predicament, moving from the idea that some of its more original and innovative features originated from the way in which Renaissance authors (such as Leonardo Bruni, Jochanan Alemanno, Georgios Gemistos Plethon, Marsilio Ficino, Giovanni Pico, and Machiavelli, among others examined within the volume) recovered and reinterpreted themes belonging to the tradition of Greco-Roman historiography and piety.
3. While it is not possible to assume that all contributors will share this sentiment, I experienced a strong sense of urgency to compile a set of critical perspectives that would interact with traditional accounts of the connection between the “Renaissance” and therefore the “Enlightenment” periods and integrate them with newer interpretations of the first modern period in Europe.
My curiosity was initially piqued by Italian historian of philosophy Eugenio Garin’s concept of an extended Enlightenment, which extends from Petrarch’s fourteenth century to Rousseau’s eighteenth century and which Garin himself problematized further after borrowing it from Delio Cantimori’s work on the periodization of European history.
This concept spans the time period from Petrarch’s fourteenth century to Rousseau’s eighteenth century. This concept, in a nutshell, views the French Revolution to represent the end of the period of Renaissance Humanism.
It encompasses in one ideal society not only the scholastics and humanists of the first Enlightenment, but also the revolutionary philosophers “from Petrarch to Rousseau.” What kinds of contributions did the Renaissance and the Enlightenment make to the development of the contemporary world?
The most prominent and influential Italian historian of the Enlightenment, Franco Venturi (1914–1994), reacted to the current interpretation in his “Trevelyan Lectures” delivered at Cambridge University in 1969.
During these lectures, he protested against the tendency of students like Peter Gay and Cassirer to match the philosophy and history of the Enlightenment, and especially against Cantimori, “one of the lads for whom the age of humanism ended with the French Revolution.”
Venturi Scholasticism and, by extension, the humanists who lived up to the beginning of the Enlightenment, from Petrarch to Rousseau, were all encapsulated inside his ideal worldview.
The Enlightenment was instrumental in putting a stop to the abuses committed by the church, establishing science as a reliable source of information, and defending human rights against oppression.
It was also responsible for the development of modern education and medicine, as well as republics and representative democracies, among other things.
The West underwent a period of political modernisation thanks to the Enlightenment, which is characterised by a concentration on democratic principles and institutions as well as the development of contemporary liberal democracies.
Thinkers of the Enlightenment aimed to limit the influence of organised religion in politics in order to forestall the onset of yet another period marked by intolerance and religious strife.
The influence of the Enlightenment that is most significant is the one that claims that we are not a creation of the divine but rather that we are designed to reason.
This is the most significant change that the Enlightenment brought about. It influenced how people thought about religion and how they felt about it.
During the time period known as the Renaissance, there was a resurgence in people’s desire to acquire more knowledge about the ancient civilizations of Greece and the Roman Empire.
Following the Renaissance came a time known as the Enlightenment, which was characterised by a significant increase in the number of ideas that targeted the improvement of the human condition.