Religion in the Age of Enlightenment


Laura Miller


Religion in the Age of Enlightenment, review, Margaret Ewalt


Margaret R. Ewalt's Peripheral Wonders: Nature, Knowledge, and Enlightenment in the Eighteenth-Century Orinoco responds to several essential topics in eighteenth-century studies, including the connections between scientific work and socioeconomic forces, the interpenetration of colonial powers and Amerindian populations, the recasting of the Enlightenment, and the variable uses of rhetoric to address print audiences. Peripheral Wonders centers on Jesuit missionary Joseph Gumilla's El Orinoco ilustrado ( 17 41, 17 45), a natural history that offers a narrative in which Catholicism and scientific inquiry mutually engage. In El Orinoco ilustrado, natural history remains informed by religious beliefs as well as local and transatlantic intellectual traditions and cultural practices. Ewalt uses Gumilla's text to recast the Spanish Enlightenment as a geographically far-reaching and eclectic movement, which was heavily connected to Catholicism and responded to both Baconian and natural philosophical scientific traditions. In El Orinoco ilustrado, the rhetorical use of the concept of "wonder" allows scientific research and Catholic theology to connect, inspiring in readers a desire for colonial expansion, economic investment, and the conversion of souls.