"Enlightenment," used in the singular, has long been a staple of school and university curricula in Europe and elsewhere, which have mostly identified it as a par excellence European, even Western European, affair. More recently, scholars have challenged this Eurocentric account, arguing for a reinterpretation of the Enlightenment with a more global purview.
This reading group session invites a discussion on the global trajectory of "Enlightenment." In his paper, Sebastian Conrad interprets Enlightenment as the work of historical actors around the world who invoked the term and what they saw as its most important claims, for their own specific purposes at different times. Rejecting a Eurocentric approach and accordingly also earlier narrow definitions of the term, Conrad argues in favour of the global co-production of Enlightenment knowledge. He also suggests that in favouring connections and synchronic contexts in space over long continuities in time, a global history perspective has fundamental consequences for our understanding of "Enlightenment." It allows to decentre the debate on universalism crucially linked to general notions of Enlightenment thought. As Conrad argues, it was not so much the inbuilt universality of enlightened claims that enabled its spread around the world; rather, it was the global history of the Enlightenment, of re-articulation and reinvention, under conditions of inequalities of power, that transformed multiple claims on Enlightenment into a ubiquitous presence.
Participants of the session are asked to read Sebastian Conrad's, Enlightenment in Global History: A Historiographical Critique, The American Historical Review, October 2012, Vol. 117, No. 4 (OCTOBER 2012), pp. xxii, 999-1027. The paper is available in open access.