The Centre for the History of European Discourses was incorporated in the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities in August 2015.

The information in this website is therefore out of date but retained for archival and staff purposes.

Our questions about charlatanism in the age of reason will identify a space, rather than a positive intellectual entity. This is the space between the ideal objects of the high arts and sciences, and the mundane forms in which artists and scientists present themselves in the world. Why does charlatanism flourish in this space at this time? Is it because the arts and sciences are tied to the social personae of artists and scientists that charlatans are able to infiltrate the sphere of reason? Through simulation, they appear to capture the credibility and esteem supposed to attach only to proper method and true knowledge. This seems to happen all the more when the arts and sciences in question are themselves centrally engaged in the cultivation of a prestigious persona, for then the simulation approaches the real. The conference will thus use the problem of charlatanism and the figure of the charlatan to investigate the play between seduction and authority. It will point to the blurring of borders between the respectable and the "pseudo" sciences, between the edifying arts and their corrupting neighbours. And it will of course consider the various attempts that were made to redefine and defend the borders of reason.

Among the milieux to be discussed will be pluralism in healing practices, libertinism and medicine, demonology and theology, alchemy and natural philosophy, metaphysics and Rosicrucianism. Questions such as the following will be asked:

  • How were diverse medical practices identified for the purposes of government?
  • Was libertine materialism articulated with the practice of medicine as an art, and if so, how?
  • What relationships existed in practice between secular magic (to use Simon During's expression) and occultism?
  • How were such arts as alchemy and necromancy rethought and redefined so as to have a place alongside freemasonry? 
  • What was the relation between the "Enlightenment" of university metaphysics and that offered by the esoteric metaphysics of clandestine illumination societies?
  • What was it that distinguished false prophets and religious visionaries from the legitimate teachers of the churches?
  • What roles did charlatanism play in literary milieux, and how were charlatans represented as literary figures?

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