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3 - Theology and the revolt against the Enlightenment


Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 March 2008

Sheridan Gilley
University of Durham
Brian Stanley
Henry Martyn Centre, Cambridge
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British security, power and imperial expansion between Waterloo and 1914 meant that many English writers saw the period as a golden age. However, even Englishmen were deeply worried throughout this period about radical upheavals. Europe was convulsed and lacerated by revolutions and wars throughout the nineteenth century: the unsatisfactory rule of the reactionary Metternich; the revolutions of 1848, followed by the unification of Germany and Italy; the Prussian-Austrian and Franco-Prussian wars, up to the diplomatic tensions which eventually incited the First World War. The industrial revolution, vast improvements in travel and communication, and the great prosperity of the latter part of the nineteenth century all coincided with a shift in thought towards understanding those natural forces that were being utilised so dramatically. Philosophy and theology moved from an Idealistic-Romantic to a more materialistic and pragmatic ethos: the impact of the pessimistic doctrines and sombre spirit of Charles Darwin upon this development is undeniable. The apocalyptic mood of the early twentieth-century mind has many precedents in the previous century.

Art and theology were more explicitly related in the nineteenth century than ever before in the history of Christianity. Schleiermacher was at the centre of the Romantic movement in Berlin; Tractarianism was forged in the atmosphere imbued with the nostalgia for medieval Christendom in the novels of Walter Scott; and Ruskin and Morris pursued the explicitly religious aesthetic of Novalis, Chateaubriand and Scott. Artistically the beginning of the period is profoundly visionary Romantic – influenced by the noumenal seas, mountains and lakes envisaged in the Romanticism of the Ancient Mariner, through the paintings of Caspar David Friedrich, to the fin de siècle Impressionists between the cafes of Montmartre and the great boulevards of Proustian Paris.

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2005

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