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date: 01 October 2020

Abstract and Keywords

How we think of the relationship between the Jesuits and the Enlightenment largely depends on how we conceptualize the latter. This chapter addresses it as a series of debates conducted in the context of a cosmopolitan Republic of Letters, and a number of specific cultural practices that made that very Republic possible. The Jesuits were, therefore, participants in, rather than enemies of, the Enlightenment. Because they combined theological conservatism with cultural modernity, the Jesuits were feared and resented with particular vehemence. Placed between two different modernities, one characterized by global structures of communication and learning, as well as by the practices of cultural accommodation, the other by the attack on superstition and religious authority, the Jesuits helped create the conditions for the Enlightenment, making important but paradoxical contributions to some of its central debates. Nowhere was this more obvious than in the impact of missionary ethnographies concerning the “Gentile” pagan peoples of the world.

Keywords: Jesuits, Enlightenment, encyclopedia, Journal de Trévoux, Montesquieu, Castel, Du Halde, China

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