An Answer to the Question: ‘What is the Enlightenment?’


An Answer to the Question: ‘What is the Enlightenment?’

February 13, 2014 / 5:00 pm - 7:00 pm / Add to Google
220 Stephens Hall

Nancy Levene, Senior Research Scientist, Department of Religious Studies, Yale University

In “An Answer to the Question: ‘What is Enlightenment?,’” Kant fixes his response in a way designed to resound through the ages: “Sapere Aude! Have the courage to use your own understanding!” It did so resound, in quite the way Kant predicted in making “matters of religion” the “focal point of enlightenment.” The Enlightenment, always radical, has most recently made way for the Radical Enlightenment, an assessment of just how heterodox some of its key figures were on matters of religion, which is equally to underscore how moderate and conciliatory were others. The digestion of “sapere aude” continues apace. My paper visits the scene of Kant’s essay, not to ask after its histories but to inquire how it is going – the project of enlightenment, the courage to use one’s own understanding in matters of religion. The question “What is the Enlightenment?,” in addition to asking after the meaning of that time, must also periodically ask the question, Kant’s question, of what is its value. In this arena, we still have work to do to comprehend the matters of religion at the heart of the critical projects of modernity.

Nancy Levene is Senior Research Scientist in the Department of Religious Studies at Yale University. She is the author of Spinoza’s Revelation: Religion, Democracy, and Reason (Cambridge University Press, 2004), and articles on religion, modernity, and the West. Her reading of Spinoza places him in conversation with thinkers who work with a concept of God as a problem of human freedom and solidarity, and is indicative of a wider interest in the inheritance of the Enlightenment. She is currently working on a book on this inheritance and its unfinished project, entitled The Elementary Forms of Religion in Modernity, which invites a re-reading of central questions in religion and its study through the figures of Kant, Nietzsche, Durkheim, and Said.

The Berkeley Public Forum on Religion is a program of the Berkeley Center for the Study of Religion.