This prologue provides an overview of the Secular Enlightenment. The Enlightenment was an eighteenth-century movement of ideas and practices that made the secular world its point of departure. It did not necessarily deny the meaning or emotional hold of religion, but it gradually shifted attention away from religious questions toward secular ones. By seeking answers in secular terms—even to many religious questions—it vastly expanded the sphere of the secular, making it, for increasing numbers of educated people, a primary frame of reference. In the Western world, art, music, science, politics, and even the categories of space and time had undergone a gradual process of secularization in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; the Enlightenment built on this process and made it into an international intellectual cause. This book then aims to understand the major intellectual currents of the century that gave birth to the label “secular.”
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