Essay on The Enlightenment

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The history of Western civilization cannot be neatly divided into precise linear sections. Instead, it must be viewed as a series of developing threads that combine, interact, and, at various intervals, take pervasive shifts. The Enlightenment of the eighteenth century was one of these paradigm historical shifts, challenging the traditional notions of authority by investing reason with the power to change the human condition for the better. This ecumenical emphasis on reason and independent thought led to an explosion of change and development across science, philosophy, religion, and politics. Later ideologies that would shape the socioeconomic landscape of the next two centuries were themselves shaped by the threads of Enlightenment …show more content…
Anthropological optimism pervaded the philosophical debates, however, standing in stark contrast to the pious hierarchical philosophies of the Middle Ages. As the Enlightenment ideals of reason and unfettered thinking were applied to the religious realm, they produced diverse effects. It does not suffice merely to say that the time period was characterized by a universal decline in religion, for in addition to the anti-religious diatribes of those such as Voltaire, there was a rise in several diverse religious schools of thought. Deism, which arose in the late seventeenth century in England, was a popular product of the search for a rational and natural religion because of its denial of God’s active involvement with the world after creation. Although many started to call special revelation and the validity of scriptural claims into question, the rise of devotional movements such as Pietism and Methodism exemplified the range of religious thought and practice during the Enlightenment. Religion was going through metamorphosis, not annihilation. Politically and economically, the Enlightenment gave birth to as wide a range of ideologies as it did religiously. The philosophical emphasis on the potential of man led to a spectacular amount of new thinking in the areas of liberty, natural rights, and the structure of government. Although the particular course that political thought took during this time varied between nations,

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