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Reviewed by:
  • Encyclopedia of the Enlightenment
  • Matthew Lauzon
Encyclopedia of the Enlightenment, 4 vols. Edited by Alan Charles Kors. (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2002). 1920 pp. $495.00 (hardcover set).

The encyclopedia as a genre is one of the enduring legacies of the Enlightenment. Pierre Bayle's Dictionnaire historique et critique (1696), Jean le Rond d'Alembert and Denis Diderot's Encyclopédie(1751- 1772), and William Smellie's Encyclopedia Britannica (1768-1771) are only three of the most famous among over fifty general Enlightenment encyclopedias. It is not surprising then, as the editor of this reference work points out, that "the Enlightenment should be the subject of a major encyclopedia" (I: xvii). This editor notes that these four volumes are intended "to be a work on the Enlightenment of unparalleled breadth and intellectual diversity" (I: xxi). With its stunning variety of entries ranging in scope from general definitions and interpretations of the period to entries dealing with political theory, regional movements, sociability, literary and artistic genres, publishing, academies and learned societies, philosophical movements, scientific innovations, moral and anthropological theories, and religious traditions, to say nothing of the 380 biographies, this Encyclopedia of the Enlightenment certainly succeeds in its intentions. [End Page 393]

This encyclopedia is well conceived and organized with not only both alphabetical and topical outlines of entries at the beginning of the first volume, but also a thorough index at the end of the fourth volume. With this index the reader can locate discussions of concepts and individuals who have not been given their own separate entries. Each entry includes an up-to-date bibliography and a set of cross-references to entries of related interest. There are also excellent historiographical entries that direct the reader through the sometimes thorny fields of competing recent interpretations of the Enlightenment. Among these, Lynn Hunt and Margaret Jacob's entry "Enlightenment Studies" is particularly impressive as it effectively presents the history of the receptions of and reactions to the Enlightenment from the philosophes and their enemies themselves, through the various interpretations in wake of the French Revolution and the nineteenth century, right down to the most recent debates and challenges presented by postmodernists and feminists.

This encyclopedia is also sensitive to recent attempts to expand our understanding of the Enlightenment as a movement in no way peculiarly Parisian or even French. Much recent scholarship on the Enlightenment has emphasized its varied nature in different national contexts.1 With entries on almost each significant European center of learning during the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, from the states of Austria to Switzerland and the cities of Amsterdam to Philadelphia, the encyclopedia rightly offers a sense of the Enlightenment as a set of thoroughly pan-European phenomena, rather than simply a handful of philosophes chattering in Parisian salons.

One aspect of the Enlightenment to receive increased scholarly attention in recent decades has been the movement's connections with the world beyond Europe. The Encyclopedia of the Enlightenment presents its readers with well thought out and thorough entries on such topics as "Asia," "China," "Colonialism," "Explorations and Contact," "Islam," "Jesuit Missionaries and Explorers," "Native Americans," "North Africa and the Levant," "South Seas," and "Slavery." Taken together, these and many of the biographical entries demonstrate the ways in which, although the Enlightenment was largely a European [End Page 394] phenomenon, the world beyond Europe had a significant role to play in generating and sustaining Enlightenment attitudes toward such phenomena as cosmopolitanism, imperialism, anthropology, religion, and natural history. The entries "Colonialism" and "Explorations and Contact" are particularly worthwhile in summarizing for readers the several dimensions of Enlightenment Europe's relationship with the wider world. As Jack P. Greene notes in his subentry "Colonialism: An Overview," "colonialism, like imperialism, was a concept that did not exist during the Enlightenment" (I: 270). But of course, as he and Anthony Pagden, who wrote the other subentry, "Colonialism: Philosophical Legacy," point out, "the particular practices and developments" (I: 270) associated with these concepts existed and were alternately praised and criticized by certain Enlightenment thinkers.

It is noteworthy, however, that one of the Enlightenment's conceptual and ideological vehicles for organizing their understanding of the wider world is virtually...