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Title: Religion, erudition, and enlightenment : histories of paganism in eighteenth-century Scotland
Author: Loughlin, Felicity Perpetua
ISNI:       0000 0004 7429 6115
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2018
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The history of paganism captivated many scholars in eighteenth-century Europe, and was brought into some of the greatest philosophical and religious debates of the age. 'Paganism' was a term that encapsulated a variety of religious beliefs and practices in the ancient and modern worlds, categorically defined through their shared distinction from the Abrahamic traditions of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Although research has been carried out into the historical study of paganism in eighteenth-century England and in many areas of continental Europe, histories of paganism produced in contemporary Scotland have largely been overlooked. This thesis aims to recover this forgotten dimension of Scottish historical scholarship by examining histories of paganism written by eighteenth-century Scots. It demonstrates that these writings provide valuable insights into Scottish intellectuals' attitudes towards religion and its history in the age of Enlightenment, and illuminate the ideas and scholarly practices that underpinned them. Part One examines the first half of the eighteenth century, exploring the writings of Robert Millar (1672-1752), Andrew Ramsay (1686-1743), Archibald Campbell (1691-1756), and Thomas Blackwell (1701-1757). It is shown that their approach to pagan religious history was founded in humanist scholarship and erudition; their findings were derived from the study of ancient texts, modern works of scholarship, and reports of modern pagans. It is demonstrated that this shared methodology did not translate into uniformity of interpretation. Pagan beliefs were variously regarded as manifestations of idolatry, as reflections of revealed religious truth, or as allegories of ancient philosophical wisdom; for some, paganism was soul-destroying, for others it was a crucial support for popular morality. It is argued, however, that each author provided a conjectural account of the origins of paganism, based on their perception of the earliest ages of human history, and their conception of the fabric of human nature. It is emphasised that, contrary to prevailing historiographical interpretations of the European study of paganism, the Scottish engagement with pagan religious history did not undermine contemporaries' attitudes towards the authority of the Christian Revelation or their perception of the superiority of Christianity. Part Two addresses the second half of the century, the age of the 'High Enlightenment'. It focuses on the natural histories of religion produced by the celebrated historians of the age, David Hume (1711-1776) and William Robertson (1721-1793). These works are generally regarded as the product of a new approach to historiography, which applied the science of human nature and society to the study of the origins and development of religious belief. It is argued here that these works in fact display remarkable continuity with the objectives, concepts, and scholarly practices that informed earlier histories of paganism. In framing their accounts of the natural development of religious belief, Hume and Robertson appealed to the evidence of the pagan past. A new emphasis on the stages of social and cognitive development supplemented, rather than replaced, the use of humanist scholarship, erudition, and conjecture in the study of pagan religious history. Nor did natural histories of religion necessarily threaten the privileged status of revealed Christianity. The thesis thus problematises the sharp division often drawn between the 'early' and 'high' phases of the Scottish Enlightenment, and questions the extent to which Scottish conceptions of religion and its history were radically transformed during the eighteenth century.
Supervisor: Ahnert, Thomas ; Brown, Stewart Sponsor: Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: paganism ; Enlightenment ; history of scholarship ; Scotland ; religion ; erudition