Imagining Enlightenment: The Historical and Historiographical Context
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In this chapter, I provide a brief survey of conceptions of the Enlightenment in order to situate the present study within that historiographical tradition. Particular reference will be made to the concept of ‘radical Enlightenment’ in the work of Margaret Jacob and Jonathan Israel, with which I maintain an appreciative critical dialogue. I clarify my method of writing intellectual history, which is characterised by reading texts in and between contexts: the former recognises the importance of the local conditions for the production of texts; the latter acknowledges the extent to which writers enter into critical dialogue with discourses produced in very different social settings. My conception of the Enlightenment is twofold: (1) it is understood synchronically, as a loosely defined stretch of modern history (from the mid-seventeenth century to the early nineteenth century), characterised by reforming intellectual, religious, and social projects; and (2) it is understood diachronically, as a Foucauldian ‘ethos’ characterised by perennial critique in the name of truth and wisdom, often making explicit use of the metaphors of ‘light’, ‘luminosity’, and their ‘dark’ nemeses. The religious and philosophical crucible of this vision of Enlightenment will be outlined with reference to Jesus and Socrates: the Christian tradition and Platonic traditions will both be emphasised as making important contributions to the intellectual and religious spirit of early modernity.