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Reviewed by:
  • Critical Enthusiasm: Capital Accumulation and the Transformation of Religious Passion
  • Lionel Laborie
Jordana Rosenberg , Critical Enthusiasm: Capital Accumulation and the Transformation of Religious Passion (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011).

Critical Enthusiasm proposes to contextualize the Enlightenment debate on religious enthusiasm within its economic landscape. Using the notorious case of the French Prophets as her point of historical reference, Rosenberg ties changing perceptions of religious radicalism to the rise of capitalism in the English-speaking Atlantic World. The book, which is aimed at an exclusively academic audience, is divided into two parts—time and space—to reflect the two "dimensions of capital accumulation" (25) around 1700. Although such ambitious and challenging studies are always welcome, this volume presents several issues that, in my view, defeat its purpose.

Chapter one links enthusiastic discourse to the theorization of England's commercial development in the late seventeenth century, and examines the Enlightenment historicism of competing monotheisms in light of the Marxist idea of "primitive accumulation" (59). Focusing on moral philosophy and legal theory, Rosenberg revisits Locke, Shaftesbury, Toland, and Hume through Marx and Weber to explore the transformation of enthusiasm into a "meta-concept" (36). Her challenging approach certainly makes valid points about enthusiasm's relationship with the periodization of history, but how much of this early Enlightenment vanguard really applies to the debate on the Camisards' inspirations? Even Shaftesbury's singular plea for public derision over repression (43) probably owed more to his encounter with enthusiasm than to his philosophical ideas. In 1706, he had dismissed enthusiasm as an extinct threat, but realized a year later that his prestigious presence at a French Prophets' assembly contributed to their publicity. Also, he later rejected his satirical stance on enthusiasm as a distasteful attempt to feed England's satirical appetite. Shaftesbury seems in reality a short-lived exception regarding the Camisard affair, as most of the 150 or so titles published at that time called for repression or confinement.

Rosenberg's focus on the widely publicized Camisards' trial is certainly legitimate, but it is never properly discussed and the brief account given (64-67) is partly inaccurate. John Lacy, the notorious English enthusiast later discussed in the book, was never condemned or even indicted in the Camisards' trial, nor did the Savoy consistory—but, rather, the Queen's Bench court—sentence them to the pillory (42), and the contemporary debate on enthusiasm illustrated competing denominations within Christianity rather than between monotheisms. More surprisingly, Rosenberg's excellent contextualization of this trial within the rise of statutory law (68-70) does not address the most important legal landmark of all in terms of religion: the Toleration Act (1689). Because of this statutory protection, the Camisards were not prosecuted as enthusiasts, but were instead individually charged with blasphemy and sedition as a noncapital offense at common law. From a legal perspective, the English authorities did not rule on "the truth of enthusiastic claims" (85), nor did they censure these French Prophets. If the Camisards admittedly questioned the integration of the Huguenot refugees, primary sources disprove Rosenberg's claim that enthusiasm was perceived as a serious threat to the state (68), as evidenced by their lenient sentence. [End Page 311]

The second part of the book is somewhat more accessible, but its over-reliance on the popular academic concepts of "spaces and places" oversimplifies some of the facts. Rosenberg presents enthusiastic discourse as a mediation of the geographical dimension of capital accumulation through England's colonial expansion in South Carolina (101-12). Yet her innovative focus on the Camisards' migration feels truncated at both ends for such a transatlantic perspective. On one side, studies have shown that prophetic culture developed in France where Protestants were the most isolated—the Cévennes and Vivarais—and could not relocate their activities abroad after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes (1685). On the other side, South Carolina saw an extension of the Camisards' enthusiasm with the St. Denis revolt and Dutartre affairs near Charleston in the 1710-20s. Ignoring both ends of the same religious spectrum is, in my view, a missed opportunity for a truly challenging approach to the geographical and economic dimensions of enthusiasm in eighteenth-century...


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