- "Religion" as an Enlightenment Concept
The two works purpose to rescue a book ignored by scholars of the Enlightenment, most of whom have seen that modernizing development in terms of scientific knowledge, economic philosophy, and political theory. In contrast, these authors argue that Cérémonies et coutumes religieuses de tous les peuples du monde, which appeared in Amsterdam between 1723 and 1737, was a publishing innovation that influentially allowed "religion" to emerge from "faith," a looser, anthropologically determined category, rather than the nebulous spirituality that theologians had previously defined. In seven folio volumes, Jean Frederic Bernard (publisher and author) and Bernard Picart (illustrator) made available to European readers what was known about Judaism, Catholicism, the various Protestant sects, Greek Orthodoxy, Mohammedanism, worship in India, China, Africa, and indigenous America, as well as Freemasonry, Deism, and agnosticism. The comparative study, which grouped together data about men's various religious practices but also information about their beliefs-gained from increasing access to their sacred texts as if each religion were equal—marks a transition from traditional teachings about faith and existential certitudes toward relativism and skepticism, to Rousseau's concept of natural religion, and to what the French call the "desacralization" of revolutionary society. The book helped to inspire Diderot and d'Alembert in their publishing of the Encyclopédie (1751-72). Thus the two [End Page 401] books that focus on Religious Ceremonies are a huge contribution to book history and to Enlightenment studies.
In Global Vision, a collection resulting from a symposium sponsored by the Getty Research Institute and UCLA's Clark Library (the Huntington Library and the Universiteit Utrecht also participated), Jacques Revel's essay "The Uses of Comparison: Religions in the Early Eighteenth Century" studies the methodology of Religious Ceremonies. In so doing, Revel considers how readers of the book might have received its regard for custom diversity when the academic disciplines describing social organization we know today did not yet exist. Revel concludes that "the collection was not conceived as a mere encyclopedia of religions" (331) and quotes from the preface to volume 1: "It should propose a general idea of the extraordinary practices that men have put into use to serve God and the like, and one is obliged to concede on reading it that, save for the character of revelation that one recognizes in some religions, they all agree on several things and have the same principles and foundations in the mind of the greater part of men, generally hold with the same thesis, advance in the same direction, and march in unison" (331). Thus Revel finds in Bernard and Picart's book and in dictionaries of the period that peace could beneficially result from men's minds moving across diversity; using the technique of comparison, they could recognize relationships and draw parallels in order to see similarities. If kings, popes, and factions had previously used religion to inspire hatred and war, now ordinary Europeans themselves, by means of their reading, could use comparison to perceive religions' fundamental sameness and understand men's common nature as each worshipped his respective god. The comparative method suggested respectful consideration of each.
Thus Bernard and Picart's book taught tolerance of difference. Yet, as Mijnhardt shows in his excellent, detail-filled essay in Global Vision, tolerance as the authors experienced it in Amsterdam was less a principled ideal than a pragmatic compromise in a society where no one religion predominated; men there were forced into a largely urban world where they lived in proximity and where the country's trade necessitated acceptance of unfamiliar and strange belief. Bernard's personal story (his Huguenot family had been forced out of France by the revocation of the Edict of Nantes) and Picart's (he had been brought up Catholic in Paris but left his family's...