Caroline Winterer is the Anthony P. Meier Family Professor in the Humanities at Stanford University. American Enlightenments: Pursuing Happiness in the Age of Reason (Yale University Press, 2016) gives us a glimpse into how eighteenth-century Americans, as the "first prophets of tomorrow," thought of enlightenment, what it meant and how to achieve it. For centuries, enlightenment had a religious meaning of the soul awakening to divine light; increasingly it meant using reason and empirical evidence as guides and exchanging tradition and divine revelation for a humanistic and historical view of the world. The aim was nothing short of the pursuit of happiness. Winterer challenges mid-twentieth-century Cold War conceptualization of an American Enlightenment, as largely an appropriation of European ideas. The language of enlightenment was ubiquitous among educated Americans and applied to a broad range of endeavors. She demonstrates how the encounter with Indians, the expansion of slavery, the application of political economy, and the emergence of natural religion allowed Americans to contribute to a transatlantic conversation. By placing American thinkers within a transnational and a fresh hemispheric context and by adding local particularity Winterer allows us to see the diversity of American Enlightenments.
Lilian Calles Barger, www.lilianbarger.com, is a cultural, intellectual and gender historian. Her current book project is entitled The World Come of Age: Religion, Intellectuals and the Challenge of Human Liberation.