Nefarious Heathens: The Threat of Irreligion in the German Enlightenment

Nefarious Heathens
Nefarious Heathens

Organizer: Jonathan Fine (Volkswagen Fellow at the Dahlem Humanities Center)

By the end of the eighteenth century the threat to societal order presented by heterodox
religious systems - a threat that had, in the opinion of many men of letters, been mounting for
decades - had grown to be acute. The boundary that isolated unconventional and even
heretical ideas had become increasingly porous, and the German public sphere consequently
appeared to be susceptible to an epidemic of irreligion that could bring about disastrous
results. Numerous self-anointed educators of humankind catered to the public interest in
unorthodox religious ideas and scandalous political programs by publishing a copious
number of texts that disputed established verities and proffered radical suggestions for reform.
This workshop will address the attempted invasion of the public sphere launched by these
nefarious heathens (to use just one of the numerous epithets employed by defenders of the
status quo). Through presentations and discussions focusing on the theological, political, and
historical context of this “movement”, participants will explore the real and perceived
divisions in Enlightenment discourse and reflect on the rhetorical strategies employed by
freethinkers to impart their heretical ideas to as large an audience as possible before their
freedom to publish was constrained.

The program is available here.

The workshop is free and open to the public. For further information, or to register, please send an e-mail to the organizer Jonathan Fine (

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