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Voltaire and Religion

Simon Blackburn examines Voltaire's views on religion and belief, including his views on the corrupt Church and the complex question of his lingering faith.

The cataclysmic Lisbon earthquake of 1755 in which tens of thousands of people died is Professor Simon Blackburn's starting point for an examination of Voltaire's views on religion and belief. The event occurred on November 1st, All Saints Day, which meant that the churches in one of the godliest cities in Catholic Europe were all packed while the brothels were relatively empty. Where, Voltaire wondered, was divine providence in all this?

Simon Blackburn carefully explores not only Voltaire's coruscating views on the corrupt and powerful established church but also the complex question of his lingering faith. Above all, he examines the practical effect of Voltaire's ideas, celebrating the role of the Enlightenment in replacing the altars and thrones of an older Europe with the largely secular constitutional democracies that followed.

Simon Blackburn is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Cambridge.
Reader Philip Fox
Producer Beaty Rubens

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15 minutes

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