Scholarship & Faith

University of Notre Dame church historian George Marsden has stirred the latest round of discussion about the relationship of faith and learning with his provocatively (and ironically) titled book The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship. Writing in the July 16, 1999, Times Literary Supplement, Robert Darnton, professor of history at Princeton and a leading scholar on eighteenth-century France, treats one example of such scholarship as anything but outrageous. Darnton is reviewing the two-volume Church and Society in Eighteenth-Century France (Oxford, Clarendon) that caps the extraordinary scholarly career of John McManners.

McManners, now Regius professor emeritus of ecclesiastical history at Oxford, is probably best known to nonspecialists for his work on modern church-state relations in France, as well as for the Oxford Illustrated History of Christianity, which he edited. Darnton convincingly illustrates how McManners has transformed the history of what might appear to be one of French Catholicism’s most lackluster centuries into nothing less than the sort of thing a reader might want to curl up with and savor. But Darnton goes further. "There is an additional quality in McManners’s work, which lifts it...

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