EXC 2060 C3-7 - City of Infidels. Freethinkers, Atheists and Blasphemers in London, 1700-1900
DFG - Cluster of Excellence
Type of Funding
This project takes a fresh look at the heterodox cultures of London in the 18th and 19th centuries. It looks at invectives against the relealed religion by deists and freethinkers, but also at social practices, "lived unbelief", e.g. by attending reformist and secularist meetings or by doing alternative forms of leisure activities. How were such practices observed: from church officials, politicians and opinion makers, but also from subaltern actors like the "Church-and-King-Mob" or the Salvation Army? How did the very different advocates of revelatory faith learn from this criticism, how did they position themselves in the face of free-thinking invectives? What changes can be observed between the 18th and the 19th centuries, and which terms can be used to describe this change? Instead of a personalizing approach that dominated research to date, I understand religious heterodoxy as a consequence of the urban media and communication structures. I will thus focus on different sites of communication such as societies and clubs, guild houses, coffee houses and taverns, theaters, trials, prisons, artisans workshops, churches, chapels and printed media. London was here paradigmatic, but not singular. Comparable media structures emerged in the British industrial cities as well as in other cities of the Anglo-American world. However, this only strengthens the assumption of a specific connection between urbanity and religious change. London (and other cities) facilitated the 'life' of unbelief, which, despite all resistance, was gradually normalized as social practice – without, however, displacing religion.