Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Antidotes to Deism: A reception history of Thomas Paine's "The Age of Reason", 1794–1809
by Hughes, Patrick Wallace, Ph.D., University of Pittsburgh, 2013, 362; 3573259
Abstract (Summary)

In the Anglo-American world of the late 1790s, Thomas Paine's The Age of Reason (published in two parts) was not well received, and his volumes of Deistic theology were characterized as extremely dangerous. Over seventy replies to The Age of Reason appeared in Britain and the United States. It was widely criticized in the periodical literature, and it garnered Paine the reputation as a champion of irreligion.

This dissertation is a study of the rhetoric of refutation, and I focus on the replies to The Age of Reason that were published during Paine's lifetime (d. 1809). I pay particular attention to the ways that the replies characterized both Paine and The Age of Reason, and the strategies that his respondents employed to highlight and counteract its “poison.” To effectively refute The Age of Reason, Paine's respondents had to contend not only with his Deistic arguments, but also with his international reputation, his style of writing, and his intended audience. I argue that much of the driving force behind the controversy over The Age of Reason stems from the concern that it was geared towards the “uneducated masses” or the “lower orders.” Much of the rhetoric of the respondents therefore reflects their preoccupation with Paine's “vulgar” style, his use of ridicule and low-humor, his notoriety, and the perception that The Age of Reason was being read by common people in cheap editions. For Paine's critics, when the masses abandon their Christianity for Deism, bloody anarchy is the inevitable result, as proven by the horrors of the French Revolution.

This dissertation argues that while Paine's respondents were concerned about what he wrote in The Age of Reason, they were more concerned about how he wrote it, for whom he wrote it, and that Paine wrote it. Drawing on Jürgen Habermas's theories of the bourgeois public sphere, I focus on how respondents to The Age of Reason reveal not only their concerns and anxieties over the book, but also what their assumptions about authorial legitimacy and expectations about qualified reading audiences say about late eighteenth century print culture.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Kane, Paula M.
Commitee:
School: University of Pittsburgh
School Location: United States -- Pennsylvania
Source: DAI-A 74/12(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: Religion, Religious history, American history
Keywords: Age of Reason, Apologetics, Christian, Deism, Paine, Thomas, Print culture, Public sphere
Publication Number: 3573259
ISBN: 9781303430404
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