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A research project funded by the Spanish Ministry of Science 



Research statement


It is commonly assumed that only public institutions or the State can properly called "secular", if and only if they are independent of any organized religion. This is necessary in order to secure the freedom of conscience and belief and warrant that no discrimination for religious or ideological reasons may occur. This research project aims at studying the origins of such neutrality in the Dutch experience of the XVII century. The main issue was how to constitute a sovereign State without neither a State religion nor harm for individual freedom. We will study the answers of two philosophers of that time, Spinoza (1632-77) and Bayle (1647-1706). Both share a basic experience: they were immigrants in the Netherlands and both were heterodox thinkers in a Calvinist country. Spinoza and Bayle were declared adversaries of any theocracy and, yet, their political stances were different enough to deserve a comparative analysis of their respective ideas on the place of religion in the public sphere and the religious neutrality of the State. We want to incorporate new perspectives into the philosophical discussion of both authors, drawing from the recent debate on the Radical Enlightenment . And we want to reexamine in this light the prevailing views in the current debate on secularism, that relate it only to the French or British experience. 

The aims of this project was:

1. To study the relevance of the so-called "Radical Enlightment" approach (developed by J. Israel) for the analysis of the Spinoza´s and Bayle´s contribution to the origins of secularism.

2. To analyse Spinoza's arguments on the independece of the State regarding religious institutions, paying particular attention to their connection with the Erastian doctrines.

3. To analyse Bayle's mature works on tolerance and gradual evolution towards secularism, putting them in their political context: French religious policies towards protestants and the reaction against Britain's Glorious revolution.

4. To discuss the echos of the disputes between France, Britain and the Netherlands in the arguments of Bayle and Spinoza.


Research team: Marta García-Alonso (principal investigator, UNED, Madrid), Olivier Abel (ITP, Paris), Hubert Bost (EPHE, Paris), Xesús Echauri (USC), Pierre-François Moreau (CERPHI-ENS, Lyon), Javier Peña (U. Valladolid), Cristina Pitassi (IHR, Geneva), Vicente Serrano (U. Austral, San Pedro de Valdivia).


Seminars and Conferences

-- Colloque International La liberté religieuse et la liberté de conscience chez Spinoza et Bayle (Paris, samedi 26 novembre 2011)

-- Seminaire autour de Jean Baubérot (Madrid, samedi 19 mai 2012)

-- Seminar in French (audio)

-- Seminar in Spanish (audio: simultaneous translation)

-- Séminaire autour de A Revolution of the Mind, Radical Enlightenment and the Intellectual Origins of Modern Democracy: Jonathan Israel - (Paris, jeudi 14 novembre 2013)

-- Seminario Internacional: La teología política según Spinoza y Bayle (Madrid, 22 de septiembre de 2014)


Maria-Cristina Pitassi's lecture: 'Del entusiasmo a la religión esencial: el recorrido atípico de Marie Huber, mujer de las Luces'

Wim Klever's lecture: 'Van den Enden, mentor of Spinoza'

During her visit to the Dept. of Moral and Political Philosophy (UNED) in May 2013, Prof. Cristina Pitassi (IHR, Geneva) gave the following lectures:

- Une brève présentation de la vie et de l'oeuvre de Pierre Bayle

- Les rapports entre la foi et la raison ou les apories de la théologie chrétienne

- Tolérance et liberté religieuse: le Commentaire Philosophique

- Tolérance et liberté religieuse: Bayle face à ses adversaires

- De l'athée vertueux à la societé d'athées ou les parcours d'une pensée hétérodoxe

To watch the lectures click here: Pierre Bayle Lectures


Some publications

Special Issue, Religious Liberty and Freedom of Conscience in Spinoza and Pierre Bayle, Reformation and Renaissance Review, 14, 2012

 Les Lumières radicales et le politique Marta García-Alonso (ed.), Paris, Honoré Champion, 2017.

Including papers by: Julie Henry, Antony McKenna, Elena Muceni, Fabrizio Lomonaco, Paolo Quintili, John C. Laursen y Whitney Mannies, María José Villaverde, Charles Devellennes, Javier Peña, Benoît Cadoux, Olivier Ferret, Peter Bàlazs, Lorenzo Bianchi, Marta García-Alonso, Jonathan Israel.