Peripheral Wonders: Nature, Knowledge, and Enlightenment in the Eighteenth-Century Orinoco

Peripheral Wonders: Nature, Knowledge, and Enlightenment in the Eighteenth-Century Orinoco

Peripheral Wonders: Nature, Knowledge, and Enlightenment in the Eighteenth-Century Orinoco

Peripheral Wonders: Nature, Knowledge, and Enlightenment in the Eighteenth-Century Orinoco

Synopsis

This work expands traditional conceptions of the Enlightenment by examining the roles of wonder and Jesuit missionary conceptions of the Enlightenment by examining the century in a production of knowledge that serves both intellectual and religious functions.

Excerpt

This book focuses on a jesuit contribution to the hispanic Enlightenment from the first half of the eighteenth century, a period in the intellectual history of Spain and Spanish America until recently generally neglected. For the better part of the last two hundred years, most critical examinations of the Hispanic eighteenth century have focused on its later years and have downplayed evidence of transitions to modernity in the first decades. Until very recently, furthermore, studies have maintained a culturally constructed mythology of a teleological, linear progress toward modernity conceived within a paradigm defined by reason, moderation, and control of emotions. This traditionally secular paradigm posits Catholic Spain and her colonies as resistant to or even lacking in Enlightenment. Critics have instead privileged a hegemonic theory of Enlightenment based on the French and English models, thus restricting other European nations’ entrances into critical modernity to an Age of Reason narrowly defined within the borders of only a few cultural contexts. Twentieth-century scholarship has been indelibly marked by Marcelino Menéndez y Pelayo, who decreed that an absence of Enlightenment thought in Spain had “contaminated” Spanish America.

The present study resists situating Spain and Spanish America within such traditional concepts as a tardy entrance into Enlightenment or a truncated modernity. Instead, it proposes a model that more accurately reflects the different yet successful transitions of countries that mediated modern philosophies with Christianity. Adding to new criticism on Spain and her South American colonies, it explores an eclectic, Catholic Enlightenment that glorifies God alongside moral reforms and empirical scientific inquiries. By examining the role of preexile Jesuit evangelization and science in the Hispanic transition to modernity, this study reveals an alternative Enlightenment that does not divorce sentiments from reason and does not insist on control of emotions in the accumulation, cataloguing, and dissemination of knowledge.

From the earliest years after the founding of the Society of Jesus in 1540, the order’s missionaries wrote accounts that mixed classical and contemporary erudition from the Jesuit curriculum with firsthand knowl-

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