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Journal of Jesuit Studies






Although works on religious, specifically Catholic, and more specifically Jansenist, contributions to the Enlightenment abound, the contributions of the Jesuits to the Enlightenment have remained relatively unexplored since Robert R. Palmer initially identified affinities between Jesuit thought and the emergence of the French Enlightenment as long ago as 1939. Accordingly, this introduction and the essays contained within the pages of this special issue revisit and further explore ways in which the individual Jesuits contributed to broader patterns of European intellectual and cultural history during the age of Enlightenment. Taken together, the contributions to this special issue investigate different aspects of an important question: to what extent were some Jesuits (at time, despite themselves, and at times, even against the grain of the order’s official positions) unlikely contributors to the Enlightenment? This question of whether one might speak of a specifically Jesuit Enlightenment is complicated by the still unsatisfactory scholarly consensus regarding the definition of the Enlightenment. But, growing scholarly attention to the nature of Catholic Enlightenment, and to the continuities linking eighteenth-century preoccupations to the controversies of the seventeenth century have further underscored the need for greater attention to Jesuit contributions to the Enlightenment itself. In this introduction, rather than considering the Enlightenment as a series of transformative and largely eighteenth-century debates rooted in the middle or late seventeenth century, I suggest that Jesuit engagement with the Enlightenment is best understood if the Enlightenment is more firmly anchored somewhat earlier in the culture of late Humanism—a culture that was first weaponized then chastened within the crucible of the European Reformations.


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