The Scottish Presbyterian clergyman William Robertson was one of the most successful historians of the Scottish Enlightenment in the mid- to late eighteenth century. He was also a leading member of the so-called ‘Moderate party’ of ministers in the Scottish Presbyterian kirk. This article examines the connections between his historical writings, especially those on non-European civilizations, and his religious beliefs. One of Robertson’s main interests was in the degree of progress that non-European societies could achieve before their contact with Europeans. According to Robertson, this progress would always be limited. The reason was that these societies were pagan and lacked the information provided by Scriptural revelation. Robertson however considered revelation to be critical not only for religious belief, but for the true refinement of manners and for moral improvement; without Christian revelation, the natural path of human intellectual and cultural development would reach a dead end and eventually even lead into error, delusion, and moral corruption. Civilizations such as those of the South- and Mesoamerican Indians before their conquest by the Spanish, or that of ancient India, were in many respects highly sophisticated and advanced societies, but at the same time displayed features that were incompatible with modern refinement, as Robertson conceived it. Like other Moderates, and most of his contemporaries, Robertson considered religion an essential basis of morality. But he also believed that natural religion, which was all that pagan societies had, was insufficient for that purpose.
|Title of host publication||Die Aufklärung und Ihre Weltwirkung. Geschichte und Gesellschaft Sonderheft 23|
|Place of Publication||Göttingen|
|Publisher||Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht GmbH & Co|
|Number of pages||23|
|Publication status||Published - 2010|