New Histories of Atheism
This chapter surveys the state of new atheism, examining the historiography of the subject and the different views on it that currently exist. It evaluates the early writings on the subject, commenting on the attacks on traditional histories of rationalism mounted by influential authors such as Lucien Febvre and P. O. Kristeller. Such attacks inhibited the study of irreligion. It then explores the origins of the terminology used to describe atheism, and its relationship to orthodox opinion. It also deals with the problems caused by the fact that the expression of irreligious views was proscribed. In considering the question of periodization, it shows the degree to which the growth of explicit formulations of irreligion was a by-product of the shifts in European sensibility in the period from 1680 to 1715.
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