Religion in the Age of Enlightenment


Religion in the Age of Enlightenment, Book Review, French Enlightenment


Daniel Brewer's study of the French Enlightenment-its construction, its self-fashioning, and its subsequent reconstruction in a series of national memorial performancesis heavily overladen with a kind of "poetics of ruins:' Ruins and monuments are everywhere here, in an almost dialectical relation: ''Alas, more beautiful is the debris of a beautiful palace;' exclaims Victor Hugo (quoted p. 186), and Chapter 9, which is explicitly devoted to the theme of ruins, refers to some of the classical Enlightenment narratives of progress, from Condorcet to Turgot, as self-consciously focused on the problem of "building on ruins:' The reference to the past in the title, the theme of ruins, and the fairly unusual psychological dimension in much of the book are reminiscent of Futures Past, the influential collection of essays by Reinhart Koselleck, but this is not mentioned here.