HST 790S-14-01 (4103) Readings in Cultural History (Seminar)

What is “Modernity”?

Spring 2015, Mondays, 6:15pm to 8:15pm, 118 Friedl Bldg.

William M. Reddy



The first six authors on the below list have recently offered influential or controversial definitions of “modernity,” definitions that focus, one way or another, on late seventeenth-century transformations, including the scientific revolution, the Glorious Revolution in England, the rise of religious toleration, imperialism, and the “disenchantment” of the world associated with these changes. We will examine them and have a  look at some of the review articles and debates that have been inspired by these books. We will attempt to sort out the varying ingredients of these definitions and their implications, and to determine which features of these definitions have the greatest merit, or offer the most fruitful guidance to historical research.

We will also look at some recent, more detailed studies that bear directly on the question of modernity. Students will write some brief book reviews or comparisons.


Jonathan I. Israel, Enlightenment Contested: Philosophy, Modernity, and the Emancipation of Man, 1670-1752 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006) ISBN-13: 9780199541522

Stephen Gaukroger, The Emergence of a Scientific Culture: Science and the Shaping of Modernity, 1200-1685 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2006);   ISBN: 0199550018 ;  ISBN-13: 9780199550012

Steve Pincus, 1688: The First Modern Revolution (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2009) from Barnes & Noble:  ISBN: 0300171439 ;   ISBN-13: 9780300171433

Dipesh Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference (Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press, 2000; “reissue, with a new preface by the author, 2008”)   ISBN: 0691130019 ;   ISBN-13: 9780691130019

Talal Asad, Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, Modernity (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2003)  ISBN: 0804747687 ;   ISBN-13: 9780804747684

Amanda Anderson, The Way We Argue Now: A Study in the Cultures of Theory (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2006) ISBN-13: 9780691114040

Matthew L. Jones, The Good Life in the Scientific Revolution: Descartes, Pascal, Leibniz, and the Cultivation of Virtue (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006);   ISBN: 0226409554 ;   ISBN-13: 9780226409559

Joan-Pau Rubiés, Travel and Ethnology in the Renaissance: South India through European Eyes, 1250-1625 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000);   ISBN: 0521526132 ;   ISBN-13: 9780521526135

Raf Gelders and S. N. Balabangadhara, “Rethinking Orientalism: Colonialism and the Study of Indian Traditions,” History of Religions 51(2011):101-128

Lynn Hunt, Margaret C. Jacob, and Wijnand Mijnhardt, The Book That Changed Europe: Picart and Bernard's Religious Ceremonies of the World (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2010) ISBN-13: 9780674049284

Sankar Muthu, Enlightenment Against Empire (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2003);   ISBN: 0691115176 ;   ISBN-13: 9780691115177

Anthony Pagden, The Enlightenment, and Why It Still Matters (New York: Random House, 2013) ISBN-13: 9781400060689