Intellectual Crossroads: Religion, Knowledge, and Science in the Early Modern World

A special issue of Religions (ISSN 2077-1444). This special issue belongs to the section "Religions and Humanities/Philosophies".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: 17 November 2024 | Viewed by 582

Special Issue Editors

E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Department of History, The University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, AL 35233, USA
Interests: inquisition studies; history of science; history of medicine; cognitive science of religion

Guest Editor
1. CONICET (National Council of Scientific and Technical Research), Buenos Aires, Argentina
2. Department of History, Faculty of Philosophy and Letters, University of Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires C1406CQJ, Argentina
Interests: demonology; science; religion; biblical exegesis; secularization; Enlightenment

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Early modernity as a historical category has typically been associated with revolutionary transformations in the production and dissemination of knowledge. From the Renaissance and Reformation to the Scientific Revolution, the period has been characterized as a series of radical departures from traditional epistemologies. Recent scholarship, however, has challenged tidy periodizations, such as the notion of a discrete scientific revolution, and sweeping teleologies, as exemplified by Max Weber’s conception of the disenchantment of the world. In place of an oversimplified binary of “progress” vs. “tradition,” we find descriptions of the period as a “conceptual free-for-all” or a “Hundred Years’ War” between numerous competing models of epistemological legitimacy.

This Special Issue seeks to explore this epistemological battleground from new perspectives using a variety of sources and methods. Contributions will deal with the emerging categories of “science” and “religion” and how they shaped various ways of knowing in early modernity. Many fields of early modern knowledge—from the discernment of spirits to demonology, to Hermeticism, alchemy, and sympathetic magic, and to the examination of miracles, prodigies, and portents—inhabited an ambiguous terrain: while they certainly had theological implications, they also increasingly involved systematic examination of the natural world, detailed causal analysis, and rationalized standards of evidence. Consequently, many of these discourses raised important questions about the construction of knowledge and the nature of evidence and occasioned lively debates about proper methods of determining religious and scientific truths. The goal of the Special Issue is not to take at face value reified notions of science and religion but rather to trace the historically contingent sorting process through which certain bodies of knowledge were deemed legitimate as opposed to “occult,” “esoteric,” or “superstitious.”

These epistemological quandaries were not confined to Europe. The Spanish colonization of the New World, for example, was driven by religious fervor and resulted in widespread evangelization, but it also produced innovations in the realms of cartography, natural history, botany, and cosmology, all of which contributed to the advancement of science in ways that have only recently come to be appreciated. In addition, the exploration of the New World revealed countless wonders and monstrosities that fed into pre-existing discourses on preternatural phenomena in the Old World. Thus, this Special Issue invites contributions that address the myriad conceptual controversies that characterized the construction of knowledge in the early modern period, not only in Europe but around the globe.

Scholars are invited to submit essays on specific and general topics, including but not limited to the following:

  • Early modern analyses of the preternatural;
  • The Catholic campaign against superstition;
  • Natural philosophical investigations of the angelic and the demonic;
  • Astrology and cosmology;
  • Physico-theology in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries;
  • Colonialism and the construction of scientific knowledge;
  • The history of facts, evidence, and objectivity;
  • The relationship between legal standards of evidence, religious certainty, and scientific proof.


  1. Blair, Ann, and Kaspar von Greyerz. Physico-Theology: Religion and Science in Europe, 1650–1750. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. 2020.
  2. Cameron, Euan. Enchanted Europe: Superstition, Reason, and Religion, 1250-1750. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2010.
  3. Campagne, Fabián Alejandro. Homo Catholicus, Homo Superstitiosus: El discurso antisupersticioso en la España de los siglos XV a XVIII. Madrid, España : [Buenos Aires] :Miño y Dávila Editores ; Universidad de Buenos Aires, 2002.
  4. Cañizares-Esguerra, Jorge. Nature, Empire, and Nation: Explorations of the History of Science in the Iberian World. Stanford: Stanford University Press. 2006.
  5. Clark, Stuart. Thinking with Demons: The Idea of Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997.
  6. Daston, Lorraine, and Katherine Park. Wonders and the Order of Nature, 1150-1750. New York: Zone Books, 1998.
  7. Funkenstein, Amos. Theology and the Scientific Imagination from the Middle Ages to the Seventeenth Centiury. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 1986.
  8. Hanegraaff, Wouter J. Reconstructing ‘Religion’ from the Bottom Up. Numen 2016: 5/6, 576–605.
  9. Harrison, Peter. Science’ and ‘Religion’: Constructing the Boundaries. The Journal of Religion 2006: 1, 81–106.
  10. David Keck. Angels and Angelology in the Middle Ages. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1998.
  11. Park, Katherine, and Lorraine Daston eds. Cambridge History of Science, vol. 3: Early Modern Science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2006.
  12. Walsham, Alexandra. The Reformation and 'the Disenchantment of the World' Reassessed. The Historical Journal 2008, 2, 497–528.

Dr. Andrew Keitt
Dr. Ismael del Olmo
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

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  • knowledge
  • science and religion
  • preternatural
  • superstition
  • astrology
  • cosmology
  • physico-theology
  • scientific revolution

Published Papers

This special issue is now open for submission.
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