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Subject History

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405189224.2011.x


A catch-all term denoting opposition to the institutional power of the church in public and private life. Specialists differentiate between intellectual, state, and popular anticlericalism. The phenomenon can be traced back to the beginnings of organized religions but was especially directed against the Roman Catholic Church (see catholicism ). Anticlericalism, which might coexist with high levels of piety, had been present throughout the Middle Ages and played a role in the Protestant Reformation. However, the ideological origins of modern anticlericalism lay with the Scientific Revolution and the enlightenment when writers, especially those in France such as Diderot, Voltaire and Rousseau, not only drew attention to abuses within the Catholic Church and its undeserved possession of civil privileges, but also questioned the claims of revealed religion. Though credited with the spread of secularization , the Enlightenment writers were generally deist in outlook rather than atheist, and their ideas were in any event limited in their diffusion. By contrast, in the nineteenth century the existence of a transcendent being was more widely challenged by further ideologies, including positivism , Marxism, and Darwinism (see marx ; social darwinism ). In the modern era, the first major instance of state-sponsored anticlericalism occurred during the french revolution of 1789. Here ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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