Humanities (HUMN) 407

The Enlightenment (Revision 1)

HIST/HUMN 407 course cover

Revision 1 is closed for registrations, replaced by current version

Delivery Mode: Individualized study

Credits: 3

Area of Study: Reading course - Humanities

Prerequisite: None. It is strongly recommended that students have previous university-level experience in studying the humanities before registering in this course. The course is designed primarily for students in the last year of a BA major in Humanities and requires appropriate reading and writing skills.

Precluded Course: HUMN 407 is a cross-listed course—a course listed under 2 different disciplines—with HIST 405 and HIST 407. (HUMN 407 may not be taken for credit if credit has already been obtained for either HIST 405 or HIST 407.)

Faculty: Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences

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HUMN 407 has a Challenge for Credit option.

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What exactly was the intellectual and cultural movement called the Enlightenment? In what way was it a continuation of the Scientific Revolution? How did it reflect changes in the structure of eighteenth century European society and politics? Did Enlightenment ways of thinking result in the undermining or repudiation of Christianity? And did the Enlightenment philosophes succeed in creating the "science of freedom" for which some of them strove?

HUMN 407 examines the intellectual history of eighteenth-century Europe in the context of its social and political history, drawing upon the writings of leading historians of the subject as well as studying the works of leading French, German, and British thinkers from the period.

The course is divided in to three parts. The first part of the course provides an overview of European political, social, intellectual, and cultural life in the seven decades before the outbreak of the French Revolution. The second part gives an introduction, interpretation, and analysis of the Enlightenment, relying on the work of one of the leading historians of this intellectual movement, Peter Gay. The last part examines Enlightenment thought at first hand, using a wide variety of primary sources written by such thinkers as Voltaire, Rousseau, Helvetius, Diderot, Montesquieu, Swift, Hume, Smith, Kant, and Condorcet.

Course Objectives

This course aims to help you to understand the nature of the Enlightenment as an intellectual and cultural movement by exploring both the scholarly literature on eighteenth-century European thought and the original writings of influential philosophes.

After completing the course, you should be able to meet the following specific objectives:

  1. Research and write effectively about the Enlightenment.
  2. Outline the social and political background to the Enlightenment in Britain and on the continent of Europe.
  3. Explain the main phases in the development of the Enlightenment as an intellectual movement.
  4. Indicate the intellectual contributions made by each of the major philosophes.
  5. Discuss the impact of Enlightenment thought on contemporary forms of Christianity.
  6. Discuss the influence of Enlightenment thought on political developments during the eighteenth century, including the French Revolution.
  7. Explain how some later Enlightenment thinkers anticipated the Romantic movement.


Part I: Europe in the Eighteenth Century

  • Unit 1: The Eighteenth Century: State and Society
  • Unit 2: The Eighteenth Century: Culture, Religion, and Rationalism

Part II: Interpreting the Enlightenment

  • Unit 3: Interpreting the Enlightenment I: The Rise of Modern Paganism
  • Unit 4: Interpreting the Enlightenment II: The Science of Freedom

Part III: Enlightenment Thought: Primary Sources

  • Unit 5: Primary Sources on Science, Religion, Ethics, and Epistemology
  • Unit 6: Primary Sources on Politics and Economics


To receive credit for HUMN 407, you must achieve a course composite grade of at least “D” (50 percent) and a grade of at least 50 percent on the final examination. The weighting of the course assignments is as follows:

Essay 1 Essay 2 Final Exam Total
25% 35% 40% 100%

The final examination for this course must be taken online with an AU-approved exam invigilator at an approved invigilation centre. It is your responsibility to ensure your chosen invigilation centre can accommodate online exams. For a list of invigilators who can accommodate online exams, visit the Exam Invigilation Network.

To learn more about assignments and examinations, please refer to Athabasca University's online Calendar.

Course Materials


Gay, Peter. The Enlightenment: An Interpretation. Volume 1, The Rise of Modern Paganism. New York: Norton, 1977.

Gay, Peter. The Enlightenment: An Interpretation. Volume 2, The Science of Freedom. New York: Norton, 1977.

Anthony Pagden, The Enlightenment and Why It Still Matters.  New York: Random House, 2013.

Woloch, Isser, and Gregory S. Brown. Eighteenth-Century Europe: Tradition and Progress, 1715-1789 (2nd ed.). New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2012.

Other Materials

The course materials include a study guide, course manual, and two reading files.

Challenge for Credit Course Overview

The Challenge for Credit process allows students to demonstrate that they have acquired a command of the general subject matter, knowledge, intellectual and/or other skills that would normally be found in a university level course.

Full information for the Challenge for Credit can be found in the Undergraduate Calendar.

Challenge Evaluation

To receive credit for the HUMN 407 challenge registration, you must achieve a grade of at least “D” (50 percent) on the entire challenge examination.

Part I: Exam Part II: Exam Total
50% 50% 100%

Undergraduate Challenge for Credit Course Registration Form

Athabasca University reserves the right to amend course outlines occasionally and without notice. Courses offered by other delivery methods may vary from their individualized-study counterparts.

Opened in Revision 1, March 28, 2013.