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Alex Barber

‘Death and Religion in the Late Enlightenment: Hume, Rousseau, and Sade’

In A. Lentin, ed., Death of the Old Regime. Milton Keynes: Open University Press, 2003. (Teaching text.)

These are two chapters, one on Hume and the second on Rousseau and Sade, within the Open University course A207 From Enlightenment to Romanticism. They contextualize and draw out the argumentative structure of four philosophical essays on religion written between 1755 and 1794.

Two essays by Hume – ‘Of Immortality of the Soul’ and ‘Of Suicide’, both suppressed in his time – criticize the natural religion popular in the Enlightenment. Rousseau’s ‘Profession of Faith of a Savoyard Priest’ signalled a shift away from Enlightenment norms of reason towards a more personalized response to religion, a response grounded in sentiment. Sade’s short dialogue, ‘The Priest and the Dying Man’, is a one-sided smorgasbord of anti-religious arguments from an old atheist asked on his death bed to confess his sins.

The essays themselves have been edited and collected in Carmen Lavin and Ian Donnachie, eds., From Enlightenment to Romanticism: Anthology, Vol 1. Manchester University Press, 2003.

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A207 book cover