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Prof. Winfried Schröder, The Origins of Atheism in the Early Modern Period and the Enlightenment (lecture)

Date: 05.03.2020
Start Time: 17:00-18:30
Place: Institute of Philosophy, Collegium Broscianum, Room 25 (Roman Ingarden lecture hall)
Organiser: Zespół badawczy projektu Między sekularyzacją a reformą. Racjonalizm religijny końca XVII wieku i epoki Oświecenia, realizowanego przy wsparciu finansowym Narodowego Centrum Nauki

Abstract on the event details page:

The denial of an omnipotent, omniscient and perfectly good creator of the universe, i. e. atheism as a philosophical stance (in demarcation from heterodoxy, anticlericalism, anti-Christian views or blasphemy) raises several issues which historians of philosophy have not yet unanimously resolved. Opinions over its origin in the history of European thought diverge widely. According to influential scholars (Minois; Whitmarsh) there has been a continuous tradition of philosophical atheism since classical antiquity. Others (Buckley; Hyman) regard atheism as a much younger phenomenon, which appeared only in the heyday of the Enlightenment with Diderot and d’Holbach. An equally controversial question concerns the factors that contributed to the emergence of atheism. There is no consensus on the role played by deism (the attack on the Bible or revelation in general), scepticism / pyrrhonism, the rise of natural science (which made theism explanatorily superfluous), or a political agenda (which aimed at abolishing Christianity and its institutions understood as pillars of repressive political dominance esp. of the ancien régime). 

These questions will be addressed on the basis of 17th- and 18th-century sources which were discovered and made available during the last decades (see the edition series by McKenna, Mori/Mothu and Schröder) but have largely been neglected by contemporary anglophone scholars (with the notable exception of Jonathan Israel): the corpus of the so-called littérature clandestine, texts distributed illegally in the ‚literary underground‘ of the 17th and 18th century (McKenna/Mothu; Paganini). These include the earliest atheist treatise known, the anonymous Theophrastus redivivus [1659], the writings of the first identifiable atheist, Matthias Knutzen [1674], the flagships of the Radical Enlightenment, the two treatises Traité des trois imposteurs and De tribus impostoribus (both late 17th c.) as well as attacks on theism employing sophisticated epistemological and proof-theoretical arguments (e.g. in the anonymous Symbolum sapientiae).

Prof. Winfried Schröder is professor of the history of philosophy at the University of Marburg, specialised
in ancient and early modern atheism, criticism of religion and the history of ideas. His publications include
several monographs, among them Athen und Jerusalem. Die philosophische Kritik am Chri­stentum in
Antike und Neuzeit (Stuttgart: Frommann-Holzboog, 2 vols., 2011-2013), Ursprünge des Atheismus.
Untersuchungen zur Me­taphysik- und Re­li­gionskritik des 17. und 18. Jahr­­hun­­derts (Stuttgart:
Frommann-Holzboog 1998) and Spinoza in der deutschen Frühauf­klä­rung (Würz­­burg:
Kö­nigs­hau­sen & Neumann 1987), and a number of articles and book chapters. Among the latter, he
has recently published “Why, and to What End, Should Historians of Philosophy Study Early Modern
Clandestine Texts?” (in: Clandestine Philosophy, ed. G. Paganini, M.C. Jacob and J.Chr. Laursen,
Toronto: University of Toronto Press 2018).