In his speech delivered to the National Convention on 18 Floréal (May 7, 1794), Maximilien Robespierre shocked his listeners as he attacked the proponents of atheism and dechristianization in the government: “Who nominated you to tell the people that God does not exist anymore? What do you hope to gain by persuading Man…that his soul is nothing but a puff of wind, blown away at the gates of the tomb?” He then proceeded to lay out his vision for a national moral code rooted in a belief in the Supreme Being and the immortality of the soul. To introduce this civic religion to the people, Robespierre, with the help of Jacques-Louis David, created the Festival of the Supreme Being which would be celebrated across the whole of France. In his book, Robespierre and the Festival of the Supreme Being: The Search for a Republican Morality
(Manchester University Press, 2016), Dr. Jonathan Smyth examines Robespierre’s desire to establish a national morality as the foundation for his utopian Republic of Virtue. Drawing from his extensive research in departmental and local archives, Dr. Smyth offers a fascinating look at the festival from the planning stage to its execution in both Paris and the provinces.
Dr. Jonathan Smyth
is an Honorary Research Fellow at Birkbeck, University of London. After retirement from his previous profession in 1998, he was awarded a First-Class Honours B.A. in Humanities from the Open University in 2003, and a Ph.D. under the supervision of Professor Pamela Pilbeam at Royal Holloway in 2010. He has presented papers on various political, religious, and cultural aspects of the French Revolution, especially revolutionary festivals, at the George Rudé Conference, Society for the Study of French History conferences, various symposia and colloquia in France, and the Society for French Historical Studies Conference in the United States.
Beth Mauldin is an Associate Professor of French at Georgia Gwinnett College in Lawrenceville, Georgia. Her research interests include French cultural studies, film, and the social and cultural history of Paris.