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In what ways and to what extent did the European Enlightenment challenge established sources of authority?

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In what ways and to what extent did the European Enlightenment challenge established sources of authority? The Enlightenment is the name given to an intellectual movement developed in Western Europe in the 17th and 18th Century. It came about through the ideas and attitudes of a group of writers (called philosophes in France), who helped create 'a new framework of ideas about man, society and nature'. (Hamilton 1992:23) These philosophers established a direct challenge to the traditional conception of the world generated by the Roman church. The Philosophers involved believed that they were more enlightened than their compatriots and set out to enlighten them; hence the period of time was labelled the 'enlightenment'. These philosophers were strongly influenced by the rise of modern science and by what had happened after the long religious conflict that followed the Reformation. They were committed to views based on reason or human understanding, which they believed would provide a basis for changes affecting every area of life and thought. The enlightenment was not something that happened all at once, and did not begin or end on a specific date. Some people believe that the enlightenment is ongoing and still to this day hasn't ended. Like the enlightenment the scientific revolution is linked mainly with the likes of Galileo, Francis Bacon, and Isaac Newton. ...read more.


Scientific discoveries in the 16th and 17th century finally changed the traditional religious worldview. Inventions such as telescope by Italian astronomer, mathematician, and physicist Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) finally proved Copernicus' theory to be correct. (Koenigsberger 1987:225) In medieval European thought the authority was the word of God and was revealed through the teachings of the Roman church. The enlightenment challenged the established and accepted ideas of religion, myth and tradition and helped created a new faith through knowledge and reason. The enlightenment ushered a period of uncertainty for religion in Europe, and Christianity in particular was criticised by the enlightenment writers. One theory in particular that gained wide attention in the enlightenment suggested that religion was 'the invention of cultic leaders or priests, whose prime consideration was the furtherance of their own interests' (Yolton et al 1996: 447). As you can imagine this suggestion caused up roar amongst religions. As already mentioned in medieval days it was considered a major sin to disagree with the beliefs of God and the church, and to criticise Gods people would obviously be taken very badly. Galileo was in fact imprisoned and nearly killed because of his beliefs and theories that questioned the traditional ideas and attitudes of the church. In order to escape Galileo had to swallow his pride and admit he was wrong, even though he knew has was correct. ...read more.


Similarly, the understanding of history as the chronicle of the fall of man from God's grace, with spiritual salvation only attainable in the next world, was largely replaced by a belief in human perfectibility and the increasing faith in mans power and ability to use his new-found knowledge to improve mankind's state". (Badham 1986:79) Enlightenment brought about a cultural change in what creates knowledge and what the purpose of knowledge is. After the enlightenment, history was no longer seen as 'synonymous with God working his purpose out.' (Smart, 1992, Pg8) Power of human reason was now used to create knowledge. In conclusion to the question, the enlightenment period challenged sources of authority dramatically, never before had people dare question the word of church until this time, and the enlightenment brought about a great deal of change in the way people perceived the world. Before the enlightenment god had all the power, man and animals were god's subjects who followed the rules that were set by the church on god's behalf. The enlightenment period is often referred to as the 'age of reason'. The enlightenment influenced people lives a great deal, and without this period, the world would not be how it is today. It enabled people to have the right to express their views freely and publicly without the fear of being imprisoned or even killed. ...read more.

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