Welcome back to the future, everyone. It's 2005! Another five years and we'll actually have a name for our decade again, either "the tens" or "the teens." For my first post of the year I'm going to make a few comments on Gertrude Himmelfarb's The Roads to Modernity: The British, French, and American Enlightenments (Alfred A. Knopf, 2004), as it is due tomorrow and I don't want to break my "no more late book return fines" New Year's resolution on the second day of the year.
Himmelfarb is a respected historian, and this short book fills what she perceived as a gap in general historical writing on the Enlightenment, namely a treatment focusing on the British Enlightenment, as opposed to the French and American episodes linked as they are to headline-catching revolutions. Her coverage of the British Englightenment naturally covers Locke (at the front end) and Hume (at the back end), but also devotes substantial time to thinkers such as Gibbon and Adam Smith, not normally associated with "the Enlightenment." She also made a good argument for John Wesley, Edmund Burke, and Lord Shaftesbury as paradigmatic Enlightenment figures. To do so, she had to broaden the scope of the whole period from the a struggle between reason and entrenched religious and political authority, as it appears to be in France and America, to accomodate what happened in Great Britain, where political and religious reform happened in the 17th century. There was nothing to revolt against in 18th-century England, so the British Enlightenment took on a different tone. But the different historical context and the resulting different tone and focus of British thinkers has caused many observers to miss the role of several of the above-named thinkers to The Enlightenment as a whole.
As for the Mormon angle, I was hoping to find a bit more discussion of the transition from 17th-century religion (beset with superstition and witchhunts) to what one might call "enlightened religion," but that was discussed only indirectly. The Methodism discussion highlighted how much John Wesley's program shared with the British Enlightenment's concern with morality and proper conduct, which Himmelfarb summarized as "the sociology of virtue." The flowering in England of a host of voluntary associations was a key development in this period, one that distinguished developments there from developments in France, where the philosophes represented an elite rather than a popular movement. Methodism was very much one of these "voluntary association" movements, and only later was forced into becoming a separate religious sect/denomination. In England, Methodism was a religious oddity; in America, that's how most sect/denominations came to be, including Mormonism (which attracted a fair number of Methodists and adopted a number of Methodist practices in its worship services).
From the American Enlightenment came "rational religion," represented by Jefferson (rather gently) and Paine (quite forcefully). If Mormonism has some roots in the Enlightenment, it seems to flow from Methodism and England rather than from the more skeptical American sources.