John SchwenklerJanuary 26, 2009 - 4:43pm0 comments
Religion and the Rise of Modern Culture
University of Notre Dame Press, $25, 136 pp.
This wonderful little book, drawn from Louis Dupré’s 2005–06 Erasmus Lectures at the University of Notre Dame, narrates the development of modern culture from its roots in early Christian encounters with Aristotelianism, through the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the rise of modern atheism, and on to the poetry, philosophy, and theology of the German Romantics. It closes with a brief discussion of contemporary scientism, religious symbolism, and theological renewal. Dupré argues that the weakening of the “Christian synthesis”—and the subsequent decline of religion into subsidiary roles in public and academic life—began with a series of intellectual shifts that can be traced to Christianity’s earliest days.
A word of warning: Religion and the Rise of Modern Culture covers a tremendous amount of ground at a level of abstraction that very often leaves the reader frantically struggling to fill in the gaps. In one passage, which is by no means uncharacteristic, Dupré moves within a single paragraph from the Islamic theologians al-Kindi, al-Farabi, and Ibn Sina, to Thomas Aquinas, Nicholas of Cusa, Marsilio Ficino, Pico della Mirandola, Jean Bodin, and the Cambridge Platonists. Analytic philosophers have a name for this: we call it driving a MacIntyre (in honor of Alasdair MacIntyre’s famously wide and eclectic range of reference). This is a book that all but demands re-reading, but that’s hardly much of a defect...