‘Aikenhead the Atheist’: The Context and Consequences of Articulate Irreligion in the Late Seventeenth Century
This chapter examines an actual case of articulate irreligion that ended up in the courts. Aikenhead was a student who derived some of his ideas from books to which he had access, which included the writings of Vanini and Spinoza. It notes Aikenhead's ingenuity in adapting such views. The discussion argues that his perceived outrageousness provoked an explosive reaction in the narrow context of Presbyterian Scotland, leading to Aikenhead's execution. The unusual detail of the available material makes it possible to assess the relative significance of this event in fuelling concern about the growth of irreligious tendencies in the period. This chapter concludes that Aikenhead's fate made clear to others the need for circumspection.
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