Religion in the Age of Enlightenment


Religion in the Age of Enlightenment, Devil, Gothic Imaginary


General historical consensus (long in the grip of Whig assumptions) has frequently proclaimed that religion during the Enlightenment period was no longer the highly contentious issue that it had been since the reformation in England. By the mid-eighteenth century, the long siege of fighting and dying over religious beliefs was, in fact, believed to be safely in the past as an elite class and an enlightened bourgeoisie embraced the brave new world of rationalism. This upper crust relegated religious disputes to a much earlier European culture that had been prone to such primitive, superstitious, and irrational behaviors and beliefs. The premise of much recent scholarship, of course, is precisely the opposite. Or to put it another way, scholars are now attuned to the fact that literary works, theatricals, and the public sphere became the sites where traditional religious disputes continued to be debated, in a somewhat baroque, stylized, and, at times, linguistically hysterical manner. I am ref erring here to the development of the gothic novel and more specifically, to its origins in the anti-Catholic sentiments that lingered in England due to the 1715 and 1745 Jacobite rebellions. The lessening of the laws against Catholics resulted in the 1780 Gordon riots and the attempt in 1779 by Spain to once again invade England. Given the fact that "the Catholic" had an uncomfortably uncanny tendency to resurrect itself as a continuing dynastic and political threat, the British imaginary sought to sooth its anxieties by battling the lingering forces of Catholicism by way of proxy, in a genre that was populated by villainous monks, disputed in - heritances, sexually perverse devils and nuns, and inquisitions that were the very antithesis of modernity's legal reforms and due process.