Philadelphia's Enlightenment, 1740-1800

Kingdom of Christ, Empire of Reason

by Nina Reid-Maroney


Traces the interwoven histories of the Enlightenment and the Great Awakening by reconstructing Philadelphia's celebrated culture of 18th-century science.

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November 2000


Pages 216
Volumes 1
Size 6 1/8x9 1/4
Topics Religion/History

Rather than treating the Great Awakening and the Enlightenment as defining opposites in 18th century American culture, this study argues that the imperatives of the great revival actually shaped the pursuit of enlightened science. Reid-Maroney traces the interwoven histories of the two movements by reconstructing the intellectual world of the Philadelphia circle. Prophets of the Enlightenment had long tried to resolve pressing questions about the limitations of human reason and the sources of our knowledge about the created order of things. The leaders of the Awakening addressed those questions with a new urgency and, in the process, determined the character of the Enlightenment emerging in Philadelphia's celebrated culture of science.

Tracing the influence of evangelical sensibility and the development of a Calvinist parallel to the philosophical skepticism of enlightened Scots, Reid-Maroney finds that the Philadelphians' love of science rested on a radical critique of human reason, even while it acknowledged that reason was the dignifying and distinguishing property of human nature. Benjamin Rush alluded to an enlightenment wrought by grace in his image of the Kingdom of Christ and the Empire of Reason. In the post-Revolutionary period, the redemptive Enlightenment of the Philadelphia circle reached its greatest cultural power as a vision for scientific progress in the new republic.

Table of Contents

PrefaceIntroductionAwakening: Science and Culture"To Glorify God in Harmonious Quiet"A Balm in GileadAwakening and Enlightenment in the New Side AcademiesA "Hotbed of Hypothesis": The Edinburgh Medical SchoolThe Enthusiast-Practitioner: Benjamin RushThe Circle Widens: Samuel Stanhope SmithThe Kingdom of Christ and the Empire of ReasonSelected BibliographyIndex



Reid-Maroney offers an elegant and reasoned inteleectual history of a group that viewed the intellect with skepticism, and this offers a fine example of finding synthesis where we did not expect it to be.—Technology and Culture

[C]learly deserves a place in the front rank of those who have tested May's thesis and found it full of rewards. What Fiering did for Harvard, and Noll and Loetscher for Princeton, Reid-Mahoney has now done for Philadelphia, and with greater stylistic charm and ingenuity.—The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography

[R]eid-Maroney's monograph is an important book; more significantly, this study gives us, at long last, a necessary corrective to previous interpretations that have made the American Enlightenment either a pragmatic episode in which Americans practiced what Europeans only theorized or an intellectual movement dominated by reason and deism.—Isis

This is a graceful and persuasive study. Those interested in the dissemination of the Scottish Enlightenment, in the history of medicine, in early Philadelphia, and in the history of religious thought will find much to please them.—Eighteenth-Century Scotland

[A] provocative and pioneering work.—Journal of Presbyterian History

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