Between Heavenly and Earthly Cities: Religion and Humanity in Enlightenment Thought

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From Carl Becker’s The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth-Century Philosophers to recent work on religion in the Enlightenment, it has been argued that the Enlightenment has significant religious elements, and that in many ways it represents a secularization of Christian values. This article argues that while, broadly speaking, the Christian view of the world is dualistic, the Enlightenment developed a pluralistic outlook in which values such as humanity and toleration took on a new force, and that between ages of confessionalism and nationalism, Enlightenment thought was distinguished by a more comprehensive and inclusive ideal of humanity. The article begins by looking at differences between theologically grounded religions and deism, then turns to recent historiography on the role of religion in the Enlightenment. It goes on to examine d’Alembert’s article on Geneva in the Encyclopédie and eighteenth-century attitudes towards Jews to see how they reflect contemporary views on religion and Enlightenment, and more specifically, on toleration and humanity in a view of the world that had moved beyond the dualisms of chosen and not-so-chosen, saved and not-so-saved. It is also suggested that Becker’s point in his Heavenly City is as much the difference between the loss of values reflected in the subjectivism and nihilism of his time and the assertions of objective truths in both Christian and the Enlightenment outlooks, as it is the hitherto neglected similarities between Christianity and the Enlightenment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)561-586
Number of pages26
JournalEuropean Legacy
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 International Society for the Study of European Ideas.


  • Enlightenment
  • Socinianism
  • ethics
  • humanity
  • pluralism
  • religion
  • toleration

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Philosophy


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