Summary and Info
Thomas Aikenhead, a student at the University of Edinburgh, was hanged for blasphemy in 1697. His story brings together many of the critical themes in Scottish and British history in an era of transition from the revolutionary upheavals of the highly confessionalized seventeenth century to the more open civil society which came to characterize the Enlightenment. Aikenhead's views, which questioned the origins of Scripture, the historical aspects of Moses and Jesus, and the assumed superiority of Christianity over other doctrines, would later appear in the mainstream of Enlightenment discourse. But in 1696-7 they were toxic. Michael Graham's microhistory, the first of its kind, places his story firmly in the social and political context of Edinburgh and Scotland in the 1690s while at the same time identifying the influences on his thinking, the legal issues raised by his trial and the ways it was viewed by contemporaries in Scotland and England. The Aikenhead case illuminates a number of themes in late-seventeenth-century history: * The influence of books and reading * The growth of higher education * The nature of "public opinion" in Britain more generally, as the case was covered in newspapers published in London * The ways legislation was drafted and used * The fissures in the religious politics of Britain after the "Glorious Revolution."
More About the Author
The Very Reverend Father Michael J. Graham, S.J. is an American Jesuit priest and educator who has been the president of Xavier University since 2001.
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