Whose Enlightenment Was It?
THE SOURCE: “Enlightenment in Global History: A Historiographical Critique” by Sebastian Conrad, in The American Historical Review, Oct. 2012.
Move over, Voltaire, and make room for Yu Kilchun, Rammohan Roy, and a host of other strangers in the Enlightenment pantheon. Scholars and intellectuals have been hacking away at the Enlightenment for years, arguing that the “age of reason” was just a mirage or a cleverly veiled vehicle of oppression. Now Sebastian Conrad, a historian at Berlin’s Free University, argues that the very idea that the Enlightenment was solely a European creation is wrong.
The great ideas of the Enlightenment—individual rights, secularism, the belief in science—were not merely invented in the West and disseminated elsewhere, Conrad contends, but continuously reinvented around the world. And the Enlightenment didn’t end in 1800, as standard accounts say, but continued into the 19th century and beyond. As if to blur the old boundaries, Conrad often speaks of Enlightenment rather than the Enlightenment.
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