The origins of atheism in the early modern period and the Enlightenment
Winfried Schroeder (University of Marburg)

March 5, 2020, 5:00pm - 6:30pm
Institute of Philosophy, Jagiellonian University in Krakow

Ul. Grodzka 52

This will be an accessible event, including organized related activities


Jagiellonian University
Jagiellonian University

Topic areas


The origins of atheism in the early modern period and the Enlightenment

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).

The lecture on 5.3.2020 is followed by a workshop on 6.3.2020.

In the workshop, Prof. Schröder will discuss one of the most well-known atheistic works of the 17th century, Symbolum Sapientiae, and present his newest research related to it. All the participants of the lecture are welcome to the workshop. The workshop provides an informal venue for in-depth discussion of the themes of the seminar and the participants' own work-in-progress on related topics.

Registration to both events is possible through the project website:

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February 23, 2020, 9:00am CET

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