Religion in the Age of Enlightenment


Religion in the Age of Enlightenment, Book Review, Essays, James E. Bradley


I n reviewing a Festschrift, one shouldn't lose sight of the volume and focus overmuch on the work of its dedicatee. The success of a party is the responsibility of the hosts rather than the guest of honor. Yet for a certain kind of honoree one may well expect a certain kind of party, so the relationship between the honored work and the honoring work demands attention. The editors of Religion, Politics and Dissentbegin their book by depicting James E. Bradley, whose sixty-fifth birthday occasioned the collection, as an opponent of what they call "the dominant historical position" in arguments about English reformism in the eighteenth century (2-3). J. C. D. Clark represents this position, according to which religious heterodoxy fueled political radicalism. The editors explain that their dedicatee draws the age's inchoate radicalism otherwise. For him it proceeds largely from the "social alienation and egalitarian religious polity" of the Dissenters (5). In defending his alternative genealogy, Bradley has for some time now argued that Clark neglects theologically orthodox agitators for political reform. Bradley's rejoinder, the editors declare, therefore "requires that scholars look more closely at the similarities that existed between orthodox and heterodox when it came to matters of religious polity" (6). This sort of comparative study would surely befit a commemoration of Bradley's scholarship on Nonconformity, in particular his own public dissent from Clark's now-established (if once sharply revisionist) account in English Society, 1688-1832.