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Example research essay topic: The Secularization Of European Mind In Nineteenth Century - 1,238 words

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The Secularization of the European Mind in the Nineteenth Century Owen Chadwicks book The Secularization of the European Mind in the Nineteenth Century explores the decline of Church's influence on European society due to the rise of technology in the nineteenth century. The growth of cities that caused the concentration of people, the availability of press and evolutionary social and philosophical sciences caused the erosion of Church's power. The book includes studies of Marx, Mill and Darwin and their influence on perception of religion. Owen Chadwick is the well-know historian of modern Church. His The Secularization of the European Mind in the Nineteenth Century was constructed from his Gifford lectures and contemporary social issues.

Chadwicks lectures on secularization explore social aspects of the shift in European society due to declining influence of the Church. In The Secularization of the European Mind in the Nineteenth Century published in 1975, the historian Chadwick pointed out an asymmetry in the treatment of religious knowledge and scientific knowledge. Even among social constructionists, he contended, when the subject turned to modern religious views, far too many scholars still tended to depict a triumphant science and a defeated religion. Chadwick spelled out the implications of strictly adhering to the principles of the strong program when treating religion-science interactions.

The two ways of thinking, he argued, must be treated symmetrically. The study of Christian creationism has posed problems for the historian for this very reason. At times, creationists have presented their theory as a science and, at other times, as a religious position. All the while, however, they have argued their position using both physical and biblical evidences.

In his book Chadwicks used social constructions to justify an even-handed, unbiased treatment of creationist ideas, calling for the need to treat them with the same seriousness and rigor as other historians of science have treated the views of evolutionists. Secularization has not gone unchallenged among science-studies scholars. One of the most negative criticisms asserts that the insights of social construction are, in fact, not new. The notion that science is a social enterprise and that the knowledge it produces is prone to the same errors and problems as any other human activity should not, states Chadwick, and he is right nowadays scientists admit this.

Furthermore, one need not invoke social constructions merely to justify a rigorously historicist perspective, one that treats discoveries and failures according to local and historical contexts. The fact that many historians uninterested in questions about the contingent nature of rationality have produced thoughtful and fair-minded studies of science and religion suggests that social constructions is not as influential in this regard as some suppose. In the book Chadwick invokes a complexity thesis to replace the old conflict and harmony models of the relationship between the science and religion. This complexity thesis stemmed, in part, from Chadwicks view that religion and science can no longer be viewed in broad universal terms. Much of the recent literature in the history of science upon which Chadwick has drawn has demonstrated the need to understand both science and religion according to locally contingent factors. In this sense, Chadwicks thesis finds much in common with social construction.

Nevertheless, one social constructionist has taken Chadwick to task for not going far enough in this direction because the very terms science and religion work against the constructionist enterprise. Any historian who uses those terms, claims Chadwicks critic, needs to be aware that the meanings of the words are themselves constructed and may not be useful in understanding a particular situation. Perceptions of the relationship between religion and science have been substantially affected by Chadwicks book. In the first place, many religious apologists have embraced the academic attacks on rationalism and humanism, finding common cause with the postmodernists in fighting the hegemony of contemporary secular culture. Postmodernists have denounced humanism for its misguided view of human beings and its naively optimistic ideas about the capability of human control over the natural and social worlds. Humanism is not warranted, according to Chadwick, because the constraints imposed by society, language, and culture limit the ability of people actually to achieve any real measure of freedom.

In his book Chadwick has upbraided humanism for precisely this reason: its arrogant appraisal of mankind's status on this earth. Chadwick as religionist has limited use for postmodern theory, since postmodernism can as equally undermine the foundations of traditional religion as it can scientific humanism. For their part, the humanists, with their strong faith in the power of science and the scientific method, find Chadwicks book dangerous because it provides a legitimating of irrationality. The discipline of philosophical theology, like religious law, also played a substantial role in the relationship between religion and science in Chadwicks book. Before industrial revolution human beings were obligated to God, who had provided them with material sustenance and natural intellect, as well as religious guidance mediated through revelation via prophets, to live in a manner consistent with Gods law -- a manner that was for the benefit of mankind. Conforming to these obligations would enable man to achieve the felicity of paradise; disregarding them would lead to harm in hell.

Causal agency was restricted to direct and indirect action by living agents, namely God and human beings; the concept of natural causation as a result of natural properties was unintelligible. Chadwicks book provides vast analysis regarding change in the mind of Europeans during industrial revolution. Chadwick recognizes that industrial revolution was the same intellectual and social context which gave rise both to modern post-Enlightenment German Liberal Protestant theology and to the poly-aspectual. According to Chadwick, romantic quest for primal sources of European identity and the possibility of a cultural dynamic freed from Christianity. Here the tensions between the inner-European struggle for cultural hegemony (exemplified supremely by the nineteenth-century conflict between France and Germany), the formation of modern disciplines in the humanities, and imperialism (both political and cultural) converge within a context characterized by rapid and pervasive industrialization and the secularization of culture. (Chadwick) In the book Chadwick has pointed to the fact that postmodern theory has deep roots in the literary modernist tradition and has been strongly influenced by Karl Marx (1818 - 83), Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 - 1900), and Martin Heidegger (1889 - 1976). Science could displace religious as well as political controversy from bourgeois gatherings.

Representing the local bourgeoisie involved integrating members of different confessions and men of differing degrees of religious conviction. In the early nineteenth-century world of amateur scholarship, science did not inevitably oppose religion. Rather, emulators could divide the two into completely discrete fields, only one of which-science -- their learned societies were competent to judge. At the end of the century when the politics of anticlericalism drove science vs. religion controversies to the forefront of public opinion, this strategy of compartmentalization disintegrated. (Chadwick) The Chadwicks book consists of two parts, the social problem and the intellectual problem.

The social problem discusses Marxism, economics, and the emergence of anticlericalism. The intellectual problem concentrates on science and religion, secular historicism and ethics. Chadwicks arguments in the book are well-supported. Chadwick has adequately addressed apparent contradictions between science and religion in his book. Regardless of the outcome, the relationship between religion and science in late-nineteenth-century thought cannot be fully understood without accounting for the historical point of view. Bibliography: Chadwick, Owen.

The Secularization of the European Mind in the Nineteenth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975; reprinted 1991.


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