Understanding the natural world on the sole basis of reason without any influence from religious dogmas was the goal of the intellectual movement called enlightenment. This movement was dominated by the thinkers of the 18th century and was called by Thomas Paine as the age of reason. Age of enlightenment is an intellectual movement that started in England in the 18th century and with it came the rebirth and recreation of the internationally-accepted view brought about by scientific revolution (Lewis 1992).
Enlightenment is a term provided for by historians which describes a period during Western philosophy and culture in which reason was declared as the main source for authority.
It was often characterized by rational and scientific views about religion, social and political issues and it led to the American and French Revolution. The 18th century was an era filed with changes and when the Westerns entered the dawn of the 19th century, they found themselves in a world completely different from the start of the 18th century.
Western civilization was greatly influenced by the development brought about by modern science and the aftermath of religious clash. The Enlightenment that began in the 18th century changed the world in more ways than one and it created many controversies towards then 19th century and even until today. The age of enlightenment took place after the renaissance period. It was characterized by several changes not only in mind but in body of many Europeans. For many centuries, the Roman Catholic Church was the leading force in the society before there was enlightenment.
The people then believed that thought their acceptance of their hardships in life and their devotion to God, they have earned their right to a better life after death but all of these ideals were deeply shaken by the age of enlightenment because many believers started to question their religious principles. The authority of the church was undermined by philosophers such as Galileo and Descartes whose ideas about the universe caused many to doubt their Christianity. This was the time wherein the interest of the people to gain knowledge widened.
People were willing to learn new concepts and accept rational ways of solving their problems ( New World Encyclopedia 2008). There were many intellectuals with mixed views about the age of enlightenment and one of them was the German philosopher Immanuel Kant. More than two hundred years ago, Kant wrote an essay about what enlightenment is and for him, it was none other than mankind’s coming of age. It is the emancipation of the human consciousness from a state of immaturity and ignorance.
He believed in the process of mental liberation and he was one of the few who confidently declared that what men known today as the Enlightenment of the 8th century, the body of liberal ideas that are advanced by the intellectuals amounted to a critical state in the human improvement (Porter 2001). Contrary to popular belief, the enlightenment is not about a single movement, it was a set of principles and ideals which is is said to be the source of critical concepts such as freedom and democracy which are two of the values that exist the society today.
The age of enlightenment was a time of scientific awakening and the believers of this age confronted the church leaders head on by discussing the often avoided controversies. As compared to the church, the enlightenment encouraged people to think and allow them to ask any kind of question. There were four areas significant to change during this period and the first was the religious change. The Catholic and the Protestant’s beliefs were questioned and this led to the tolerance of new concepts.
The second change happened in the intellectual aspect when the free intellectuals dominated the era which resulted from an opposition to the religious intolerance. The third change was an economic one when the industrial revolution led to the increasingly richer and a more independent middle class. Lastly, there were political changes that caused the emergence of the nation states ruled by Kings and parliaments (Changing Minds 2010). In understanding the acceptance and rejection of the world as to the matter of enlightenment, it is important to look back the early exchanges of cultures between the East and the West.
Islam was quickly looming in the Middle East in the 7th century . The story of the enlightenment in the East began with global explorations and expansions of the economic and political power of Europe and any attempt to reconcile a meeting of the minds between Europe and Asia must be interpreted from this context. These series of exploits signalled a massive period of exploration of the regions of south and eastern Asia and opened the way for trade and commercial expansion which in turn facilitated the economic and political changes that were taking place in Europe.
What motivated these European expansions range from the curiosity and intellectual challenged posed by the renaissance in order to out flank the Islam religion in a quest to find commercial routes to the East. Eastern philosophers such as Montaigne, Adam Smith and Wolff Leibniz were fascinated by the idea of enlightenment , by the government and its education system and in more ways than one, it served as a mirror to examine the inadequacies in the philosophies and institutions of Europe.
Much like the philosophers in Europe, Voltaire from the played an important role in the enlightenment of the east against Christianity and one of the greatest controversies that dominated his time was the issue about human race and its origin which was related to the controversy about the age of the earth. The growth and expansion of the European awareness that came together with the voyages of exploration became the subject of plenty of criticisms and more particularly, the discovery of the Eastern civilizations.
The interest of Voltaire in the issue of biblical chronology went far and wide and according to another historian, Voltaire was the first person who attempted to include his culture and that of other civilizations in the world history . The use that Voltaire made about the Jesuit-filtered representation of China in order to attack the orthodoxy of the state and the church was repeated by many philosophers. These thinkers were the popular representatives of the enlightenment in the East (Clarke 1998).
The question as to the validity and acceptance of the age of enlightenment in the non-western countries became the subject of many studies. In the West, Central and Eastern Europe, the enlightenment brought about many changes that led to deep gaps between the traditional Jewish religions and modernist who are advocates of change. However, there were differences from region to region. The enlightenment quickly led to conversion in the west while in the east, it resulted in a split between religious, secular and cultural worlds.
There were those who do not want to give up Judaism, instead, they wanted to convert it to something different (Jewish Gen. org n. d. ). Another concrete evidence on the validity of the influence of the Enlightenment ideals not only to the Western countries but also to the other countries was the wide spread of the Western culture to many parts of the world. The Western influence was widely spread to the Western Hemisphere, Africa, Asia and other non-Western countries by the year 1400.
During that time, most of the non-Western indigenous society which were influenced by the Western Culture experienced fundamental and massive changes. The Germanic, Slavic and Celtic traditions of Europe had been widely adopted by the said societies in terms of their cultural system such as force, persuasion and education. During the Middle Ages, most of the people in non-Western countries abandoned many of their traditional faiths and ethics just to give way on the Western’s culture of Enlightenment. In fact, within Europe, only few people in the Arctic regions were not greatly affected by the Western Culture before the 16th century.
By the late 19th century, Western Culture made its strong influence in North America where native Americans’ ways of life were abruptly changed by the European faith, laws and perspectives. This event also happened on the case of Australia. Similar neo-European societies dominated the Central and North America which caused great changes on the religion, culture and traditional ways of the natives on the said countries. Moreover, Western influence further expanded during the 20th century with the rise of the mass media such as motion pictures, radio, television and the like (Eze 2001).
After the wide spread of the Western culture to many non-Western countries, different parts of the world had experienced a lot of changes in terms of their ways of life, religion, traditions and the like. It is through the influence of the Enlightenment period where many countries were characterized by breakthroughs in thinking which paved the way for the people to embrace secularism, humanism, individualise, rationalism and nationalism. But among these concepts, rationalism had the strongest effect that defined the Enlightenment which made this to be called as “Age of Reason”.
Before, the Middle or Dark Ages were dominated by the Church and the life of the people was only focused on religious concerns. Nevertheless, because of the Enlightenment or the Renaissance Period, people learned how to focus not only to church and religion but also to humanity with emphasis on classical knowledge and the arts. The Enlightenment period had widened the man-focus idea further and this brought rational thought and empirical sciences to take the centre stage and bring changes to the way of thinking and living of the people (Judaism Online 2010).
Since people had shifted their concern from God-focused and Church-driven motivation to the focus on individuality and rationalism, the world had eventually seen many positive ideas and institutions which include the liberal democracy, industrialization and scientific revolution. It is believed that without the influence of the Western Enlightenment, people will remain in the Dark Age forever. There will be no scientific and industrial revolutions. There will be no advances in terms of the people’s way of life and thinking.
Hence, it can be considered that the influence of the Enlightenment Period is indeed valid even in the non-Western countries since its influences are indeed manifested in today’s life of the people. Nevertheless, along with these changes in terms of education, scientific and rational revolutions, and many others brought about by the Western Enlightenment is the ideological attacks against some of the fundamental institutions of the Western culture primarily the religion. Many thinkers of the Enlightenment Period believed that religion is an intellectual failure that causes the body of knowledge not to explain the unexplainable in the world.
Because of this, the secular culture emerged as a strong alternative to religion. And this is one of the most influential concepts that the Western world had brought to the people. The Western culture of Enlightenment taught the people with the idea of a world without God which impacted significant implications to Europe and the Jewish people (Judaism Online 2010). In total, the Western Enlightenment brought light and darkness to different aspects of living of not only the Western countries but also the non-Western countries.
The period enlightened the world from the different scientific and industrial revolutions that caused sudden changes and development not only on the way of thinking of the people but also on the way of living of most of the countries. Likewise, Enlightenment Age also somehow brought darkness or chaos on the religious belief of the people since this period regarded religion as an intellectual failure. But what matters most here is that the Western countries became successful in spreading and enlightening their concept of enlightenment since it is clearly and justifiably manifested in most parts of the world.