The Enlightenment, or the Age of Reason, was a period of great intellectual ferment that stirred up scientific discoveries and new belief systems which shifted paradigms in Europe. It was a logical continuation following on the heels of the Renaissance that saw a revival in the arts.
During the Enlightenment, knowledge was created through explorations both geographical and scientific, and subsequently dispersed via a print revolution. A virtuous cycle was formed when enhanced accessibility to knowledge raised literacy and greater literacy led to more innovations and discoveries. The religious and social zeitgeist faced challenges from this uprising of new ideas and mindsets, resulting in an incubation of a growing unease between enlightenment thinking and the concept of strictures and empires. Being men of reason, questions of morality of slavery and colonization surfaced, but they could not be answered satisfactorily.
Europeans, as a result of the Enlightenment, viewed the world through a less religious but more scientific lens, and viewed other cultures with greater empathy and understanding while they introspected on the justifications of their empires.
Dispersion of New and Scientific Discoveries that De-mystified Religion
Trade intensified throughout the seventeenth century, and the "narcotic cocktail" of tea, coffee and sugar surged in popularity. The first coffeehouse in London opened in 1652, with 500 more opening within 60 years. These provided cosy clusters for social exchange, business dealings and political discussions.
Meanwhile, literacy was largely a privilege of noble men, merchants or professionals prior to seventeenth century. But literacy rate of males in England rose from 30% in the 1640s to 60% in mid-eighteenth century. Print culture then flourished, with more non-religious text and genres filling the bookshelves. Systems of public libraries sprouted up to quench the public thirst for information. Newspaper circulation rocketed and by 1776, about 12 million copies of newspaper were circulating in Britain. Denis Diderot's Encyclopedie attempted to organize all information at that time, not unlike Google nowadays.
This combination of meeting grounds such as coffeehouses and a more educated public coalesced into a public sphere, spreading critical thinking and objective knowledge that applied to all people. More people began to reason for themselves, heralding the birth of modern universities.
Then there were innovations such as Bacon's scientific method, Descartes' coordinate system, Newton's laws of motion and Pascal's mechanical calculator. European worldview was shaken by these new possibilities and a new, scientific way of thinking emerged. Science shone light on many phenomena, de-mystifying them. In this time when societies slid slowly towards secularity, religious persecutions declined, religious tolerance increased and religious uniformity loosened.
Enlightened Explorers and Thinkers Changing...