The Village Enlightenment In America: Early Mormon Attempts To Reconceptualize The Cosmos -- By: Craig J. Hazen

Journal: Journal of Christian Apologetics
Volume: JCA 01:1 (Summer 1997)
Article: The Village Enlightenment In America: Early Mormon Attempts To Reconceptualize The Cosmos
Author: Craig J. Hazen

The Village Enlightenment In America:
Early Mormon Attempts To Reconceptualize
The Cosmos

Craig J. Hazen*

The early nineteenth century in America was a fertile period for new religious movements. Historian Jon Butler referred to the religious situation in those years as a “spiritual hothouse” because the cultural and social environments were ideal for the germination and initial rooting of nontraditional religious ideas, doctrines, and practices.1 Attempts to explain the initial success of groups that emerged during this period-such as the Mormons, spiritualists, and the mind-cure movement-have generally centered on conventional factors employed in religious studies circles such as new social organization, charismatic figures, religious authority, and experience. But because these movements are generally considered “popular,” less attention has been paid to the efforts that prominent individuals in the movements made to demonstrate that they were in possession of a superior and more coherent way of looking at the cosmos. An important part of the appeal of these new movements was that they claimed to have custody of a more reasonable, harmonious, and compelling way of conceptualizing God, life, and the universe (both visible and invisible), based not on the medieval superstitions perpetuated by Christians, but upon a new and more reasonable revelation for an enlightened age.

My goal in this article is to bring into clearer focus the way in which new movements during this period found apologetic value in demonstrating the superiority of their respective world views vis-á-vis the mainstream Christian view. I plan to accomplish this by first providing a general description of an interpretive category I call the “Village Enlightenment.” Following will be a brief historical case study of an early Mormon apostle’s attempt to solve several problematic issues facing mainstream philosophers and scientists of this era by looking at the problems from his new “enlightened” perspective.

* Craig Hazen is the Director and Professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University

The Village Enlightenment

There is a need in historical studies of nontraditional movements of the nineteenth century to make better sense of the ways the adherents handled the intellectual and apologetic side of their new religions. Because of some striking similarities in the ways various new groups approached reason and religion, I propose a common interpretive category that I call the “Village Enlightenment.”2 I use the concept of the Village Enlightenment to describe the ways in ...

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