The 'Enlightenment', the longue durée, and Catholic Visions of the Lisbon Disaster: Spain 1755-56

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The Lisbon Disaster has often been treated as a before-and-after moment in the Enlightenment period and in modernity more generally, even in countries that were apparently staunchly religious. In this article, looking at the Catholic reaction in Spain, My core arguments are as follows:

• In the face of crisis, commentators fell back on deeply held, long-standing, even ancient beliefs. The longue durée was of decisive importance in responses to the Disaster.

• Established Catholic dogma was the primary and enduring reference point, even for those with an interest in newer scientific theories.

• The fundamental debate about the Disaster did not map onto the divide between those who favoured and those who opposed newer scientific ideas.

• Rather, the fundamental debate was about how best to achieve lasting "conversions", by which was meant a renewal of piety and devotion and a turning from sin.

• The Disaster did have a lasting effect: it brought about a renewal of Catholicism that was less concerned with theological subtlety than with immediate personal experience.

• Such religious experience was imbued with fear and with the sensation of searing divine punishment; this was the affect of Spanish Catholicism among all factions.

• When much more substantive changes occurred in Spanish society after 1808, that earlier Catholic renewal provided the basis for new ways of thinking. In this way, the longue durée continued to have a dynamic importance in history.

Bibliographic note

Dieciocho - a longstanding US-based journal of the Spanish Enlightenment - has now become completely open access, so I provide a link to the final article. As I published the article while at Bristol, this was deposited in PURE at that institution.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)173-96
Number of pages24
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • Enlightenment, Spain, Modernity, Catholicism, Christianity, Lisbon Disaster, Longue durée, Atheism, Deism

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