Rethinking the Enlightenment

Faith in the Age of Reason

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The Enlightenment was a complex cultural movement that radically transformed both religion and society — a movement Christians fended off when, in the name of “reason,” the Church in France was dethroned in a most bloody and utterly unreasonable way. The Enlightenment also ushered in a wave of genuine Christian inspiration and reform, however, and it opened vast new avenues for the faith to flourish. 

In this compelling and edifying book, scholar Joseph Stuart investigates this paradox, masterfully exploring the tense interaction of the Enlightenment and Christianity as two cultures, two lived realities, and two overlapping ways of life.

On page after page, you’ll see that the “Age of Reason” was more than just merciless confrontation between reason and religion. Indeed, it brought forth many Christians — including “the Enlightenment Pope,” Benedict XIV, and groups of coffee-drinking monks — who embraced both faith and reason as powerful tools for strengthening Church and society.

In other cases, culture-changing Christians such as John Wesley and St. Louis de Montfort opted simply to sidestep the Enlightenment by building up Christian culture from within — a strategy that led to the explosion of powerful evangelical movements across the world.

In Rethinking the Enlightenment, Dr. Stuart demonstrates that the three primary strategies Christians employed during the Enlightenment — conflict, engagement, and retreat — are time-tested methods that should be employed in our own anti-Christian age. Conflict without engagement is senseless; engagement without conflict is weak; and without retreat, both strategies lack wisdom. If we pursue all three today with the help of the Holy Spirit, then a tough, intellectually sophisticated, and evangelically oriented Christianity can emerge — just as it did in the tumultuous Age of the Enlightenment

 

Jared Zimmerer photo

"Stuart tussles with the metaphysical and theological pugilism of the age and provides a practical, evangelical blueprint of how the Church has successfully or unsuccessfully engaged the world. A much-needed book in academia, yet just as necessary for the layman."

Jared Zimmerer
Director of the Word on Fire Institute
Mike Aquilina photo

"Joseph Stuart is a brilliant and confident voice in the new generation of Catholic historians. In these pages he presents a daring revaluation of an important moment in history — the best and worst of times. Prepare to be surprised, entertained, and edified."

Mike Aquilina
Executive Vice President, St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology
William Fahey, Ph.D. photo

" Anyone interested in the apparent war between faith and reason, order and freedom, tradition and innovation, religion and humanism... will be guided well by Joseph Stuart's 'Rethinking the Enlightenment.'"

William Fahey, Ph.D.
Fellow & President, Thomas More College of Liberal Arts
Fr. George W. Rutler photo

"The intelligence of Dr. Stuart's analysis lies in its balanced perspective which understands religion and the so-called Enlightenment not as 'either or' contenders for truth, but rather as complimentary interpreters of the fact that Christ the Living Word is the Light of the Nations."

Fr. George W. Rutler
  • Pages: 400
  • Format(s): Paperback, eBook
  • ISBN: 978-1-622828-227
  • Product Code: 8227
  • Availability: In Stock
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The Enlightenment is often seen as a movement that opposed and attacked key pillars of religion; prior to reading this book, I believed that the Enlightenment represented a significant attack and decline in religion. However, Stuart points out that “the Enlightenment also opened new avenues for faith to flourish.” Dr. Joseph Stuart’s book Rethinking the Enlightenment will challenge your conception of the Enlightenment through his argument that religion—Christianity in particular— interacted with the Enlightenment “through conflict, engagement, and retreat.” One of my favorite parts of this book was found in the first few chapters. Stuart opens the book by outlining the tragic event of the Carmelite Sisters of Compiegne. These sisters, accused of failing to live up to the new French ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity, were sentenced to death on July 16, 1794, in the face of a suddenly austere crowd that may have begun to realize the error of the movement. This solemn and eye-opening moment in history represents the conflict found between the religion and the Enlightenment. The author then takes this peak conflict between the Enlightenment and religion and goes on to explain how they got there.
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Voltaire Playing Chess, Popes Drinking Coffee, and Faith in the Age of Reason
From witnessing an unlikely game of chess between Voltaire and a Jesuit Priest, to seeing a Pope relaxing in a Coffee shop, Joseph Stuart’s approach to the Enlightenment is filled with insight, humor, and style. And yet, Stuart delves deeper than many historian’s dare to cover in his book, Rethinking the Enlightenment: Faith in the Age of Reason. At the heart of this work is a desire by the author to narrate the nearly forgotten history shared by Christianity and the Age of Reason. He does this through focusing on three different methods of interaction between Christians and the Enlightenment: Conflict, Engagement, and Retreat. Each section of the book weaves narratives, ideals, and figures together to interact with all three of the different areas of the Christian Enlightenment. What issues did Christianity and the Age of Reason have with one another? And what were the consequences because of those differences? Stuart answers this question within the section on Conflict. How did Christianity intertwine and evolve with the Enlightenment? Engagement holds the answer. How did Christianity maintain itself in an era set on leaving it behind? The final section Retreat enlightens the reader. Stuart’s book provides a powerful, haunting, knowledgeable, beautiful, and joyful narrative of the interaction between Christianity and the Enlightenment that will leave its reader stunned. Stuart revives an area of history frighteningly close to being forgotten and handles the topic with such care that it leaves a profound impact on the audience. Stuart’s book Rethinking the Enlightenment: Faith in the Age of Reason is a powerful modern work of history that should be on everyone’s bookshelf in their home.
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A New Perspective
The strategy that struck me the most was retreat because of how easy it was to connect retreat to my own life and the world we live in today. Dr. Joseph Stuart’s book is made for a general audience but challenges the reader to take a step back and understand the Enlightenment from a different perspective. As I read the book, I saw the Carmelite Sisters taken to the guillotine, had an evening at Voltaire’s estate, watched a dissection, and lived with Samuel and Susanne Wesley. Although these are completely different experiences, I saw how faith and reason can work together in each one. The retreat strategy showed me what it meant to change on the inside but also the dangers of turning inward. Dr. Stuart writes on p 20, “One's pursuit of the devout life, in other words, should not assume that human nature is constantly a rebel in need of violent discipline." God created us and our human nature and whatever God creates is good. De Sales talks about how we should not be so strict on our actions and lives. We cannot deny our human nature because it can help us use our reason and incorporate that into our faith. Rethinking the Enlightenment does exactly what the title implies. Dr. Joseph Stuart breaks down the book very well for any reader whether or not they have knowledge about the Enlightenment. The book was easy to read without getting lost or confused. Each chapter, section, and story had a purpose to the thesis of the book and made it enjoyable to read.
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Unique and Gripping
Within Rethinking the Enlightenment, Dr. Joseph Stuart masterfully analyzes the greatly misunderstood Christian experience of the Enlightenment in Europe and the American colonies. Through the interpretative strategies of conflict, engagement, and retreat, Dr. Stuart transports the reader back in time to a section of humanity’s saga that interestingly shares many commonalities to the highly secularized world we currently inhabit. Close the shades, light the fireplace, pour a cup of coffee, and strap yourself in for an exhilarating and thought-provoking adventure through one of humanity’s most influential and reforming periods. Christianity’s role in the age of reason has thankfully received more academic attention in recent years, and Rethinking the Enlightenment makes the perfect launch pad into this often-forgotten yet incredibly engaging story of the Early Modern Period.
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A New Look at the Relation between Religion and the Enlightenment
Dr. Stuart’s book, Rethinking the Enlightenment, is a great re-evaluation between the relations of religion and the Enlightenment. Throughout the book, Dr. Stuart addresses the strategies in which Christians engaged the Enlightenment. Through these various strategies the reader is able to come to basic understanding of how the Enlightenment developed in different regions in Europe. It provides a wide overview of Europe and the English-speaking world and highlights some figures left out of the history books. I would recommend this book to newcomers looking for information about this time period as is offers a new and great insight into the broad picture of Enlightenment. However, the book because it covers so many regions and different aspects of Enlightenment it does not have to time for an extremely detailed analysis of a particular area of the Enlightenment. But rest assured, Dr. Stuart does provide adequate footnotes for additional reading if you become interested in a specific area of the Enlightenment.
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