A while back, Emily Rutherford posited that studies on the Church of England in the eighteenth century was the “biggest gap” in current historiography. Rutherford goes on to identify Carolyn Steedman’s Master and Servant: Love and Labour in the English Industrial Age as the best exception to this lacuna. In addition to Steedman, one could also add Brent Sirota. With William J. Bulman’s Anglican Enlightenment; Orientalism, Religion and Politics in England and its Empire, 1648-1715 (Cambridge, 2015; source: publisher) we can now include a pivotal study that perhaps fills this gap.
At first glance, Anglican Enlightenment seems to have a couple significant limitations. First, is not Anglican Enlightenment an oxymoron? It has long been argued that early Enlightenment in England has stood in opposition to conformist Church of England. The term Anglican Enlightenment is thus rendered nonsensical. Second, despite its title, Bulman’s work is a study of Lancelot Addison, and not the broader overview of the Church of England. This begs the question, could one case study give us a fair assessment of an entire movement such as the Anglican Enlightenment?
Bulman does a fine job addressing these issues and more. Bulman defines the Enlightenment as, “the Enlightenment was ideologically open-minded, socially embedded, and disciplinarily diverse” (Anglican Enlightenment, xi). By expanding the definition in a more inclusive manner, Bulman corrects an antiquated and stifling understanding of the Enlightenment. Not only does Bulman provide a more inclusive definition, he also expands our understanding of what the Enlightenment entailed. Bulman writes, “Its history is as much a history of culture, religion, and politics as it is a history of ideas” (Anglican Enlightenment, xiv).
Bulman tells the tale of Addison’s evangelistic efforts to Muslims and Jews in and around Tangier. Bulman argues that Addison’s enlightened approach recognized the limitations of previous attempts to make inroads with these religions. Rather, Addison sought to combine scholarship with missionary work. Only with this dual pronged endeavor did Addison have any real and meaningful dialogue with Islam and Judaism.
Addison’s West Barbary (1671) epitomizes Addison’s foray into historical studies and political thought. As part of a new movement of humanist travel writers, and more specifically traveling historians, Addison’s work expanded historical methodology. In seeking factual accuracy, Addison turned to first-person accounts over traditional favoritism of written text. His approach to history anticipated late Enlightenment historiographical modernization.
Addison defended the Anglican Church from freethinkers, but also mediated between conformists and nonconformists alike. Addison’s involvement in these matters were part of early Enlightened Anglicanism. Bulman describes the enlightened Anglicans:
They stressed their independence from Rome and their partnership with the state, while avoiding firm stances on the relationship between civil and church authority. They were also willing to defend the rightful authority of the church in a manner that did not depend on claims about revelation. They described the church as an indispensable guardian of religion, civilization, and morality, in order to withstand threats from both learned critics of revealed religion and Protestant critics of the popular superstition and traditionalist devotion of the baroque church of Rome. They promulgated a vision of Christ as a teacher of virtue and a moulder of good citizens. They insisted that this Christianity be disseminated by means of catechizing, and secondarily, in simple sermons that utilized a plain style. Virtue, they maintained, was best cultivated within the ritual life of the church. Civil concord and worldly goods were best procured within sacramental societies. Anglican Enlightenment, 205.
Without taking away from its merit, I am left wondering where the exact divide between late Renaissance humanism and the early Enlightenment lies. At times, Addison sounded very much like a Renaissance humanists and not an early Enlightenment figure. This perhaps has to do with Addison being a transitional figure. Also, perhaps, the relationship between late Renaissance and early Enlightenment is more fluid than I expect. Finally, this confusion may be my own imbalance of late Enlightenment studies, as opposed to the early Enlightenment. Nonetheless, I continue to struggle with this issue and look forward to further studies which work out these issues.
I thoroughly enjoyed Bulman’s Anglican Enlightenment. It is an incredibly important work, in an area of history that needs this level of scholarship. I strongly encourage anyone doing research in late seventeenth and early eighteenth European studies to get a hold of Anglican Enlightenment.