The debate about the origins of Enlightenment haven’t paid as much attention as they should have done to the radical religious cultures of the Dutch Republic in the mid-17th century, which are the subject of Francesco Quatrini’s new book. Adam Boreel (1602-1665): A Collegiant's Attempt to Reform Christianity (Brill, 2020) is a biographical and thematic study of one of the most enigmatic – and perhaps one of the most important – of the period’s religious and scientific thinkers. In the first major biography of this figure, and in almost two hundred thousand words, Quatrini reconstructs from complex and often ambiguous sources Boreel’s childhood in the Dutch Reformed church, the intellectual agendas and travels by which he was exposed to more radical forms of Christianity, the friendship networks in which he worked on projects that seem to have designed the conversation of the Jews, and most significantly of all the unofficial institutions that fostered the wide-ranging and open-ended conversations on religious subjects that marked the communal life of the Collegiants. Quatrini’s outstanding new book opens up new windows in our understanding of early modern religion and science.
Crawford Gribben is a professor of history at Queen’s University Belfast.