Review: Religion and Politics in Enlightenment Europe

Religion and Politics in Enlightenment Europe
Religion and Politics in Enlightenment Europe by James E. Bradley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It seems from the time of Constantine on that the life of the church has been inextricably bound up with politics. The unique slant of this collection of scholarly essays is that the authors explore how various religious reform movements in different national settings in 18th century Europe were tied into the political structures, and indeed political reforms, of their day.

After an introductory survey by Dale Van Kley, one of the editors of this collection, authors explore successively reform movements in France, Italy, and the Netherlands, in Bourbon Spain, and Habsburg controlled lands (all three of these are heavily concerned with the Jansenists and their struggle against the Jesuit-dominated Roman Curia). The remaining essays explore the religious origins of the radical politics of England, Scotland, and Ireland, the Deventer reforms in the Dutch republics, Pietism in Germany, and efforts to secularize the Orthodox church and diminish the control of monastics in Russia.

One major theme is the alliances formed between religious and political reformers, such as those between Jansenists and revolutionaries in France. Sadly alliances, while sometimes beneficial to the religious reformers, often end up disappointing when political power asserts its own controls, or when religious reformers form alliances with the losing side. From this a second theme emerges, that of power. Reformers, both political and religious are seeking to overthrow or diminish the power of others in religious or governmental circles and using their alliances with one another to help in that effort. A third theme is religious liberty, whether for dissenters in the English, Scottish and Irish context, or pietists in Germany or even minority Catholics in the Dutch context. Most often here, as in the American context which is noted at several points, those seeking greater liberties often turn to the political powers-that-be for relief from established church power.

Given the academic character of the book, I would think it is of primary interest to those interested in the Enlightenment period of European church history. It should also be of interest to anyone interested in the question of church-state relations and the intertwined nature of these. Lastly, particular chapters of this work may be of interest to those coming from one of the represented religious traditions, whether that be French Catholic, Pietist, Reformed, or Russian orthodox. I’m part of a Pietist church tradition and so I particularly appreciated this material. I also find church-state relations fascinating, particularly because of the follies and dangers I see of churches getting themselves entangled in political processes. Lastly, I picked up the book because one of its editors teaches at the institution where I am engaged in collegiate ministry and when I saw the book at a bargain price, I just couldn’t pass it up!

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One thought on “Review: Religion and Politics in Enlightenment Europe

  1. Pingback: April 2014: The Month in Reviews « Bob on Books

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