Matthew Kadane, "The Enlightenment and Original Sin" (U Chicago Press, 2024)


Matthew Kadane, Professor of History at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, talks about his just new book, The Enlightenment and Original Sin (University of Chicago Press, 2024). An eloquent microhistory that argues for the centrality of the doctrine of original sin to the Enlightenment. What was the Enlightenment? This question has been endlessly debated. In The Enlightenment and Original Sin, historian Matthew Kadane advances the bold claim that the Enlightenment is best defined through what it set out to accomplish, which was nothing short of rethinking the meaning of human nature. Kadane argues that this project centered around the doctrine of original sin and, ultimately, its rejection, signaling the radical notion that an inherently flawed nature can be overcome by human means. Kadane explores these ambitious, wide-ranging themes through the story of the largely unknown Pentecost Barker, an eighteenth-century "purser" and wine merchant. Examining Barker's diary and correspondence with a Unitarian minister, Kadane tracks the transformation of Barker's consciousness from a Puritan to an Enlightenment outlook, revealing in one man's transformation large-scale shifts in self-understanding whose philosophical reverberations would (and have continued to) shape debates on human nature for centuries.

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