The Heritage of Western Humanism, Skepticism and Freethought: Toward a Reasonable World College of Arts and Letters Homepage San Diego State University Homepage

Home Conference Program (.pdf) Presenters Background Michael Servetus BibliographyConference Organizers


Rebecca Moore
San Diego State University
5500 Campanile Drive
San Diego, CA 92182-6062
619.594.6252 (office)
619.594.1004 (fax)

Last Update: 12/15/11

A Historical Bibliography> Table of Contents> France

Please credit San Diego State University, Department of Religious Studies in publications. Copyright San Diego State University.

French Enlightenment

Pierre Bayle (1647-1706)

Jean Meslier (1664-1729)

Paul-Henri Thiry, Baron d'Holbach (1723-1789)

Voltaire (Francois-Marie d'Arouet) (1694-1778)

Jacques-André Naigeon (1738-1810)

Denis Diderot (1713-1784)

Marquis de Montesquieu (1689-1755)

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778)

France and Unbelief in the Nineteenth Century

August Comte (1798-1857) and the Religion of Positivism

France and Unbelief in the Twentieth Century

French Existentialism

Albert Camus (1913 -1960)

Franz Kafka (1883-1924)


French Enlightenment

While the theological challenge of Deism appears to have developed and matured in England, the full range of Enlightenment thought reached its zenith in mid- and late-eighteenth century France, where Voltaire became its leading exponent and the salons of Paris its primary points of dissemination. As the Enlightenment has been explored by the last generation of scholars, it has been shown to have drawn on antecedents that reach back into the sixteenth century, the have successfully penetrated all areas of society while simultaneously provoking intense resistance and major pockets of non-acceptance, and to have laid the foundations for the progress of the next two centuries while forcing its opponents to adjust their thinking in substantial ways.

This bibliography is primarily concerned with the manner that the Enlightenment encouraged and nurtured alternative theologies that rejected major parts of the Christian (and Jewish) tradition, especially those evolved into a form of what is usually termed Deism, and then went on to lay the foundation for a full-blown atheistic perspective. The jump to atheism had occurred already in the sixteenth century, but was first presented in a manuscript written by Jean Meslier (1664-1729) which was discovered and published only after his demise.

The Enlightenment can be seen as that period from the late seventeenth through the eighteenth century in which intellectual life was marked by a cadre of scholars who questioned the received tradition of Western Christianity, offered reason as the base from which they offered their questions, and held up the hope of science as providing the insights leading to a new way of reordering life.

It is often forgotten that the Enlightenment thinkers formed the cutting edge minority of the intellectual community. The academy was throughout the period always in the hands of a more traditionally oriented majority who frequently and often angrily rejected the basic themes of Enlightenment thought, especially its theological conclusions. Only in the twentieth century would the control of the university systems of the West begin the shift to the control of the children of the Enlightenment and Christian theologies start their reconstruction into post-Enlightenment modes of presentation.

The French phase of the Enlightenment may be traced to the career of philosopher René Descartes (1596-1650). Descartes professed an orthodox Roman Catholic faith through his life, but his philosophical writings appeared to suggest a Deistic perspective that had little use for God beyond the creation of the world and demanded observation of the world without pre-set teleological assumptions. Critics on occasion accused him of being a closet deist, if not in fact an atheist.

The French phase of the Enlightenment is best known and largely defined by the new ideas and perspectives that were floating around the salons and intellectual circles of Paris in the mid eighteenth century and found expression in the Encyclopedia compiled by Denis Diderot (1713-1784), the first volume of which appeared in 1751. Included among the contributors were Paul-Henri Thiry, Baron d'Holbach (1723-1789), the Marquis de Montesquieu (1688-1755), Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), and Voltaire (1694-1778). Eventually 17 volumes of articles would appear between 1751 and 1765 (with additional volumes of illustrations appearing afterwards). The work would present both the new perspective advocated by the Enlightenment leadership and the initial scientific findings in which they placed their faith.

Religiously, the encyclopedia claimed philosophy’s independence from (French Catholic) theology, and claimed reason as its autonomous domain. Without attacking the church directly, it subversively denied the church the privilege of speaking with authority in scientific matters and equally denied the state authority in the intellectual and artistic realms. The opinions expressed in the Encyclopedia would then provide the rationale for the French Revolution, the event usually used also to mark the end of the Enlightenment.


Adams, Jeffrey. The Huguenots and French Opinion, 1685-1787: The Enlightenment Debate on Toleration. Waterloo, ON: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1991. 336 pp.

Betts, C. J. Early Deism in France: From the So-called "Déistes" of Lyon (1564) to Voltaire's "Lettres philosophiques" (1734). Boston: Martinus Nijhoff, 1984. 328 pp.

Blom, Philipp. Enlightening the World: Encyclopedia, The Book That Changed the Course of History. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005. 416 pp.

Bronner, Stephen Eric.  Reclaiming the Enlightenment: Toward a Politics of Radical Engagement.  New York: Columbia University Press, 2004 181 pp.

Church, William Farr. The Influence of the Enlightenment on the French Revolution. Boston D. C. Heath  & Co., 1964. 108 pp.

Crocker, Lester. An Age of Crisis: Man and World in Eighteenth Century French Thought. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1959.

–––. Nature and Culture: Ethical Thought in the French Enlightenment. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1963. 540 pp.

Darnton, Robert. The Business of Enlightenment: A Publishing History of the Encyclopédie, 1775–1800. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1979. 638 pp.

Donato, Clorinda, and Robert M. Maniquis, eds. The Encylopédie and the Age of Revolution. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1992. 230 pp.

Fellows, Otis E. , and Norman L. Torrey, eds. The Age of Enlightenment: An Anthology of Eighteenth Century French Literature. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1942,  640 pp.

Gay, Peter. The Party of Humanity: Essays in the French Enlightenment. New York: W. W. Norton, 1971.

Goodman, Dena. The Republic of Letters: A Cultural History of the French Enlightenment. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1996. 338 pp.

Hunter, Michael, and David Wootten, eds. Atheism from the Reformation to the Enlightenment. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992. 320 pp.

Huppert, George. The Style of Paris: Renaissance Origins of the French Enlightenment. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1999.

Kafker, Frank A. The Encyclopedists as a Group: A Collective Biography of the Authors of the Encyclopedie. Oxford, UK: Voltaire Foundation, 1996. 222 pp.

Kors, Alan Charles, Atheism in France, 1650-1729 Volume I: The Orthodox Sources of Disbelief. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990.

-----. D'Holbach's Coterie: An Enlightenment in Paris.  Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1976.

-----, ed. Encyclopedia of the Enlightenment. 4 vols. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Korshin, Paul, and Alan Charles Kors. Anticipations of the Enlightenment in England, France and Germany. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1987. 320 pp.

Kristeller, Paul Oskar. “The Myth of Renaissance Atheism and the French Tradition of Free-Thought.” Journal of the History of Philosophy 6(1968) 233-243.

McMahon, Dennis H. Enemies of the Enlightenment: The French Counter-Enlightenment and the Making of Modernity. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. 288 pp.

McManners, John. Death and the Enlightenment: Changing Attitudes to Death among Christians and Unbelievers in Eighteenth-Century France. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985. 640 pp.

Palmer, Robert R.  Catholics and Unbelievers in Eighteenth Century France. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1966. 236 pp.

Perkins, Jean A. The Concept of the Self in French Enlightenment. Geneve: Droz, 1969. 163 pp.

Roche, Daniel. France in the Enlightenment. Translated by Arthur Goldhammer. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998.

Steinbrügge, Lieselotte.  The Moral Sex: Woman's Nature in the French Enlightenment. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995. 168 pp.

Spink, John S. French Free-Thought from Gassendi to Voltaire. London: Athlone, 1960.

Torrey, Norman L. Les Philosophes: The French Philosophers of the Enlightenment and Modern Democracy. New York: Capricorn Books, 1960.

Vyverberg Henry. Human Nature, Cultural Diversity, and the French Enlightenment. New York: Oxford University Press. 1989. 223p.
Wade, Ira O. The Clandestine Organization and Diffusion of Philosophical Ideas in France from 1700 to 1750. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1938.

-----.  The Intellectual Origins of the French Enlightenment. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1971.

Watts, Charles. Atheism and the French Revolution. London: Watts & Co., 1880. 8 pp.

Back to top

Pierre Bayle (1647-1706)

Pierre Bayle (1647-1706) was a French Protestant and philosopher who pioneered working with the separation of the realms of faith and reason, an idea that would become a bulwark of the Enlightenment.  He is also remembered for his writing the proto-encyclopedic work, the Historical and Critical Dictionary which began to appear in1695. He lived most of his adult life in Holland.

Primary Sources

Bayle, Pierre. The Dictionary Historical and Critical of Mr Peter Bayle. Trans. By  P. Desmaizeaux, London: Knapton,  1734. Rpt.: New York: Garland Publishing, 1984.

-----. The Great Contest of Faith & Reason—Selections from the Writings of Pierre Bayle. New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1963 108 pp.

-----. Historical and Critical Dictionary. 1697. 2nd ed.: 1702.  Trans. by Richard Popkin. Indianapolis: Bobbs Merrill, 1965.

-----. Philosophical Commentary on These Words of the Gospel, Luke 14.23, Compel Them to Come In, That My House May Be Full. London, 1708. Rpt. Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, Inc., 2005. 639 pp.

Secondary Sources

Brush, Craig B.  Montaigne and Bayle: Variations on the Theme of Skepticism. The Hague: Nijhoff, 1966.

Lennon, Thomas M., 1999, Reading Bayle, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 199.

Rex, Walter. Essays on Pierre Bayle and Religious Controversy. The Hague: Nijhoff, 1965.

Robinson, Howard. Bayle, the Skeptic. New York: Columbia University Press, 1931,

Sandberg, Karl. At the Crossroads of Faith and Reason: An Essay on Pierre Bayle. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press, 1966.

Back to top

Jean Meslier (1664-1729)

Jean Meslier lived and died as a Roman Catholic priest. It was discovered after his death that he had become a closet atheist and had penned a book promoting atheism and denouncing religion as he knew it. His lengthy manuscript circulated informally, but was soon condensed and published, including one edition prepared by Voltaire. 

He appears to have been the first person to write an entire book-length volume in support of atheism. An English translation has recently appeared.

Primary Sources

Meslier, Jean. Superstition in All Ages. Trans. by Anna Knoop. New York: Truth Seeker Company, 1950. 339 pp.

-----. Testament: Memoir of the Thoughts and Sentiments of Jean Meslier. Trans. by

Michael Shreve. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2009. 593 pp.

Secondary Sources

Brewer, Colin. "Thinker: Jean Meslier." New Humanist 122, 4 (July/August 2007).

Back to top

Paul-Henri Thiry, Baron d'Holbach (1723-1789)

Paul-Henri Thiry, Baron d'Holbach was a prominent eighteenth-century philosopher who emerged as a significant voice of the French Enlightenment. Born a German, he later attained French citizenship. His family was wealthy and with his lavish inheritance he was able to attend college, to fund one of the more important Parisian salons, and provide support for less fortunate leaders of the Enlightenment. 

Baron d’Holbach wrote voluminously, including articles for Diderot’s Encyclopedia, though the majority of his writings were largely unheralded until the next century. Most had been published anonymously or under a pseudonym and were printed outside of France. Voltaire denounced his writings as atheistic. His 1770 book, The System of Nature (Le Système de la nature), published under the pseudonym Jean-Baptiste de Mirabaud (actually the name of a former secretary of the French Academy of Science), suggested the non-existence of any deity,

Primary Sources

Baron D'Holbach. Christianity Unveiled by Baron d'Holbach: A Controversy in Documents. Trans. by David Holohan. Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey, UK: Hodgson Press, 2008.

-----. Good Sense Without God: Or Freethoughts Opposed To Supernatural Ideas, A Translation Of Baron D'holbach's "le Bon Sens." 1772. Rpt. Boston: J P Mendum, 1856. 222 pp. Rpt.: Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2004.

-----. Letters to Eugenie: A Preservative Against Religious Prejudices. 1768. Preface by Jacques-André Naigeon. Trans. by Anthony C. Middleton. Rpt.: Fairford, Gloucestershire, UK: Echo Library, 2010. 140 pp.

-----. System of Nature. London: 3 vols. London: Tomas Davison, 1820, 1821. Rpt.: New York: Burt Franklin, 1970. 368 pp. 

Secondary Sources

Cushing, Max Pearson. Baron d'Holbach, A Study Of Eighteenth Century Radicalism In France.  New York: Columbia University, Ph.D. dissertation, 1914. 90 pp. Rpt.: Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing, 2004. Posted at

Israel, Jonathan. A Revolution of the Mind: Radical Enlightenment and the Intellectual Origins of Modern Democracy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press 2010.

Kors, Alan Charles. "The Atheism of D'Holbach and Naigeon."  In Michael Hunter and David Wootton. Atheism from the Reformation to the Enlightenment. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992.

-----. D'Holbach's Coterie: An Enlightenment in Paris. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1976.

Ladd, Everett C., Jr.  "Helvétius and d'Holbach." Journal of the History of Ideas 23, 2 (1962): 221-238.

Lough, John. Essays on the Encyclopédie of Diderot and D'Alembert. London: Oxford University Press, 1968.

------. "Helvétius and d'Holbach", Modern Language Review 33, 3 (July 1938).

Naumann, Manfred. Paul Thiry D'Holbach. Berlin Akademie Verlag, 1959. 320 pp.

Newland, T. C. "D'Holbach, Religion, and the 'Encyclopédie’." Modern Language Review 69, 3 (July, 1974):  523–533.

Topazio, Virgil W. D'Holbach's Moral Philosophy: Its Background and Development. Geneva: Institut et Musée Voltaire, 1956.

-----. "Diderot's Supposed Contribution to D'Holbach's Works." Publications of the Modern Language Association of America LXIX, 1 (1954): 173–188.

Wickwar, W. H. Baron d'Holbach: A Prelude to the French Revolution. London: Allen & Unwin 1935. 253 pp.

Kors, Alan Charles, Atheism in France, 1650-1729. Volume I: The Orthodox Sources of Disbelief. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990.

Mattill, A. J. An Awesome Trinity: Charvaka, Celsus, Meslier. Gordo, AL: Flatwoods Free Press, 1999. 39 pp.

Morehouse, Andrew R. Voltaire and Jean Meslier. Yale Romanic Studies, IX. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1936. 158 pp.

Voltaire. Life of Jean Meslier. Rpt.: Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing 2006. 16 pp.

Wade, Ira O. "The Manuscripts of Jean Meslier's ‘Testament’ and Voltaire's Printed ‘Extrait’." Modern Philology 30, 4 (May 1933): 381-398.

 Back to top

Voltaire (Francois-Marie d'Arouet) (1694-1778)

The most famous of the Enlightenment philosophers, Voltaire was born François-Marie Arouet. He grew up in Paris and decided to make his living by writing. He first attained some fame from a play he wrote while sitting in prison falsely accused of having written an anonymous satirical poem. The name by which he became known is an anagram of his own name.

As his fame grew, he became known for his wit, but attained some importance for his advocating a broadening of civil rights for individuals, and defending those arrested for their religious opinions. He wrote a number of plays, many pamphlets arguing his often controversial opinions such as Candide), and articles for Diderot’s Encyclopedia. He defended many, but possibly most notably Jean-François Lefevre de la Barre (1745-1766), a young man accused of vandalizing a crucifix and eventually executed. When his body was burned, a copy of Voltaire’s Philosophical Writings was also consumed in the flames.

Voltaire is usually described as a Deist with a tendency toward pantheism. He knew of atheism, but distanced himself from association with it, especially in the case of Jean Melsier.
Voltaire wrote many books, pamphlets, articles, and dramas. He owned a large library, which has remained intact in the National Library of Russia at St. Petersburg. The Voltaire Foundation at the University of Oxford focuses the study of Voltaire and the French Enlightenment and publishes scholarly edition of the works of Voltaire and other French Enlightenment figures. It has issued a multi-volume edition of Voltaire’s Works in English.

Primary Sources

Voltaire. The Best Known Works of Voltaire. New York: Blue Ribbon Books, 1927. 504 pp.

-----. Candide and Other Stories. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. 329 pp.

-----. God and Human Beings. Intro. By S. T. Joshi. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2010. 183 pp.

-----. Letters concerning the English Nation. Trans. by John Lockman. Dublin: George Faulkner, 1733.

-----. Life of Jean Meslier. Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing 2006. 16 pp.

-----. Memoirs of the Life of Monsieur de Voltaire. Trans. by Sophie Lewis. London: Hesperus Press, 2007. 124 pp.
-----.  Philosophical Dictionary. 1752. Ed. by Theodore Besterman, London: Penguin, 1984. 400 pp.
-----. Selected Works of Voltaire. London: Watts & Co, 1935. 214 pp,

-----. A Treatise on Toleration and Other Essays. Trans. by Joseph McCabe. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 1994. 223 pp.

-----. Voltaire on Religion: selected writings. Ed. by Kenneth Appelgate. New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1974.

-----. The Works of Voltaire: A Contemporary Version With Notes. 42 vols. Paris/London/ New York/Chicago: E. R. Dumont, 1901-1903. Rpt.: Ithaca, NY: Cornel University Library, 2007.

Secondary Sources

Besterman, Theodore. Voltaire. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977. 718 pp.

Bondanis, David. Passionate Minds: Emilie du Chatelet, Voltaire, and the Great Love Affair of the Enlightenment. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2007. 384 pp.

Davidson, Ian. Voltaire: A Life. New York: Pegasus, 2010. 560 pp.

-----. Voltaire in Exile: The Last Years, 1753-78. New York: Grove Press, 2005. 368 pp.

Dzwigala, Wanda. "Voltaire and the Polish Enlightenment: Religious Responses." Slavonic and East European Review 81 (2003): 70–87.

Gargett, Graham. Voltaire and Protestantism. Oxford, UK: Voltaire Foundation, 1980. 532 pp.

Mason, Hayden. Voltaire: A Biography. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981. 214 pp.

Orieux, Jean. Voltaire. Garden city, NY: Doubleday & Company, 1981. 584 pp.

Parker, Derek. Voltaire: The Universal Man. Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2006. 256 pp.

Parton, James. Life of Voltaire. 2 vols. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1881.

Pearson, Roger. Voltaire Almighty: A Life in Pursuit of Freedom. New York: Bloomsbury USA, 2005. 384 pp.

Torrey, Norman L. Voltaire and the English Deists. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1930.

Trapnell, William F. Voltaire and the Eucharist. Oxford, UK: Voltaire Foundation, 1981. 219 pp.

Back to top

Jacques-André Naigeon (1738-1810)

Jacques-André Naigeon, a Parisian associate of Paul-Henri Thiry, Baron d'Holbach, emerged in the last half of the eighteenth century as a leader among the people who gathered at Baron d’Holbach’s salon. He assisted d’Holbach with the publishing of his works in Amsterdam and worked with Denis Diderot as an editor on the Encyclopedia. Naigeon authored only one work, Le militaire philosophe ou, Difficultés sur la religion proposées au Pére Malebranche (London and Amsterdam, 1768), which included a final chapter written by d'Holbach. Most of Naigeon’s work has yet to be translated into English.

Primary Sources

Baron d’Holbach. Letters to Eugenie: A Preservative against Religious Prejudices. 1768. Preface by Jacques-André Naigeon. Trans. by Anthony C. Middleton. Rpt.: Fairford, Gloucestershire, UK: Echo Library, 2010. 140 pp.

Secondary Sources

Brewer, Daniel. The Discourse of Enlightenment in Eighteenth-Century France: Diderot and the Art of Philosophizing. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993. 316 pp.

Kors, Alan Charles, "The Atheism of D'Holbach and Naigeon."  In Michael Hunter and David Wootton, Atheism from the Reformation to the Enlightenment. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992.

Back to top

Denis Diderot (1713-1784)

The atheist philosopher Denis Diderot is primarily remembered today as a major contributor and the senior editor of the Encyclopédie (Encyclopedia), upon which he spent more than two decades of his life in the mid-seventeenth century. In his hands, the Encyclopedia became an expansive multi-volume compendium of the emerging scientific work, left-wing political commentary, and the most radical of contemporary religious perspectives. His writings included some of the first comments on Asian religion in the West.

During his lifetime, Diderot moved from French Catholicism to Deism to atheism, the later view originally stated in his 1749 Lettre sur les aveugles (An Essay on Blindness). Written at a time when public statements of minority religious opinions could have one arrested, the work led to his speeding a period in the Vincennes prison.

Primary Sources

Diderot, Denis, and d'Alembert, Jean Le Rond. The Encyclopedia: Selections. Edited and translated by Stephen J. Gendzier. New York: Harper and Row, 1967.

-----. A Letter on Blindness. For the use of those who have their sight. London: printed for William Bingley, 1770. 132 pp.

-----. The Nun. Trans. by Russell Goulbourne. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. 238 pp.

-----, Thoughts on Religion. London: J. Watson, 1841. 8 pp.

Secondary Sources

Crocker, Lester G. Diderot: The Embattled Philosopher. New York: Free Press, 1966.

Furbank, P. N. Diderot: A Critical Biography. New York: A. A. Knopf, 1992.

Goyder, Thomas. A Vindication of the Christian Religion: In reply to Diderot's deistical pamphlet, entitled "Thoughts on religion," published by R. Carlile. London: J. Hatchard, 1820. 35 pp.

Havens, George R. The Age of Ideas. New York: Holt, 1955.

Simon, Julia. Mass Enlightenment. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995.

Back to top

Marquis de Montesquieu (1689-1755)

On of the major political thinkers of the French Enlightenment, Charles-Louis de Secondat, baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu is identified with the idea of separation of church and state (or religion and government), which with the French and American Revolutions began to spread through the Western world (though still far from universal acceptance globally). From a well-to-do background, he was further privileged by marrying into a wealthy Protestant family in Southern France.

Intellectually, Montesquieu is credited with observations that would lead to the founding of anthropology as a separate discipline—in his attempts to classify and understand the different types of human systems of governance. He placed an emphasis on the understanding of the environment as a conditioning force in human society. This emphasis on the outward conditions, including a country’s religion, that affect political life is aligned with his Deism, which posited a creator who then is absent from the world that has been left to run very much on its own.

Montesquieu had fairly positive views of religion which he saw as being the primary force available to check the power of despotic governments. At the same time, as he developed his ideas of separating government from religion he came to advocate tolerating religious differences in those lands with substantial minority faiths, and the inappropriateness of using government powers to enforce the rules and laws of any given religious community. Montesquieu’s ideas would take very different forms in the United States (where the basic concern was keeping the government out of religion) and France (where the basic concern was keeping religion out of government).

Primary Sources

Montesquieu. The Complete Works of M. de Montesquieu. Translated from the French. 4 vols. London: printed for T. Evans; and W. Davis, 1777.

-----. Considerations on the Causes of the Greatness of the Romans and Their Decline. Trans. by David Lowenthal. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1999.

-----. Persian Letters. Trans. by C. J. Betts. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin Books, 1973.

-----. The Spirit of the Laws, Thomas Nugent (trans.), New York: MacMillan, 1949.

Secondary Sources

Althusser, Louis. Politics and History: Montesquieu, Rousseau. Marx. Trans. by Ben Brewster. London: Verso, 2007.

Carrithers, David W. Michael A. Mosher, and Paul A. Rahe, eds. Montesquieu's Science of Politics: Essays on The Spirit of the Laws. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2001.

Cohler, Anne. Montesquieu's Comparative Politics and the Spirit of American Constitutionalism. Lawrence KS: University of Kansas Press, 1988.

Conroy, Peter. Montesquieu Revisited. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1992.

Cox, Iris. Montesquieu and the History of French Laws. Oxford: Voltaire Foundation at the Taylor Institution, 1983.

Durkheim, Emile. Montesquieu and Rouseau: Forerunners of Sociology. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1960.

Hulliung, Mark. Montesquieu and the Old Régime. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976.

Keohane, Nannerl. Philosophy and the State in France: The Renaissance to the Enlightenment. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1980.

Kingston, Rebecca. Montesquieu and the Parlement of Bordeaux. Geneva: Librairie Droz, 1996.

Kra, Pauline. Religion in Montesquieu's Lettres persanes. Geneva: Institut et musee Voltaire Les Delices, 1970. 224 pp.

Krause, Sharon. “The Politics of Distinction and Disobedience: Honor and the Defense of Liberty in Montesquieu.” Polity 31, 3 (1999): 469-499.

Oakeshott, Michael. “The Investigation of the ‘Character’ of Modern Politics”, in Morality and Politics in Modern Europe: The Harvard Lectures, Ed. by Shirley Letwin. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1993.

Pangle, Thomas. Montesquieu's Philosophy of Liberalism: A Commentary on The Spirit of the Laws. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1973. 352 pp.

-----. The Theological Basis of Liberal Modernity in Montesquieu's Spirit of the Laws. Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 2010. 208 pp.

Rahe, Paul A. Montesquieu and the Logic of Liberty: War, Religion, Commerce, Climate, Terrain, Technology, Uneasiness of Mind, the Spirit of Political Vigilance, and the Foundations of the Modern Republic. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2010. 400 pp.

Schaub, Diana. Erotic Liberalism: Women and Revolution in Montesquieu's Persian Letters. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1995. 224 pp.

Shackleton, Robert. Essays on Montesquieu and the Enlightenment, Ed. by David Gilman and Martin Smith.  Oxford: Voltaire Foundation at the Taylor Institution, 1988.

-----. Montesquieu: A Critical Biography. London: Oxford University Press, 1961.

Shklar, Judith. Montesquieu, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987.

Back to top

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778)

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a leading writer of the French Enlightenment, was born in Geneva of Protestant parents. He left Geneva at an early age and converted to Catholicism, eventually returning to Protestantism in order to regain his lost Genevan citizenship. Of a musical background, he fist became known for his 1750 Discourse on the Arts and Sciences, in which he argued that he the arts and sciences had led to the moral degeneration of humankind. Rousseau asserted that humans were basically good by nature (an idea quite opposed to the dominant Protestant understanding that humans were depraved and corrupted by sin). He would develop this perspective in the Discourse on the Origin and Basis of Inequality among Men (1755). Meanwhile, he had become a close associate of Diderot and was working with him on the Encyclopedia. He would later break with Diderot over his belief in the spiritual origin of the human soul.

Rousseau often reflected on religion, toward which he had a positive, if heretical, view. His book Emile: or, On Education, for example, included a defense of religious belief. Its main character was a priest who held to a Unitarian (non-Trinitarian) theology and advocated the worth of all religions, not just Christianity. The book would be burned by both Catholics and Protestants. He subsequently had to leave Paris to escape arrest, and took refuge in the Swiss canton of Neuchâtel, and then in England. He returned to Paris in 1770, but had to promise to publish no more. Except for a fragment of his Confessions, his most famous work, publication of the remainder of his literary output would appear only after his death.

Rousseau fell out with both the Roman Catholics and Protestants on one hand and his Enlightenment colleagues on the other. He concluded that religion was necessary, but disagreed with the idea of original sin. He also believed that God was present in his creation and was the source of humankind’s natural goodness. He also did not understand why church authorities viewed saw his “heretical” views as a more sinister threat than the atheistic perspectives of other Enlightenment spokespersons. He attempted a somewhat futile effort to defend his position in an open letter to the Archbishop of Paris that included an additional argument, largely unappreciated in his century, that freedom to discuss diverse religious matters is in the end a more religious viewpoint than the attempt to impose belief by force.

Primary Sources

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. Basic Political Writings. Trans. by Donald A. Cress. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 1987.

-----. Collected Writings. Ed. by Roger Masters and Christopher Kelly. 13 vols.  Dartmouth: University Press of New England, 1990–2010.

-----. The Confessions. Trans. by Angela Scholar. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

-----. Emile, or On Education. Trans. by Allan Bloom, New York: Basic Books, 1979.

-----. 'The Discourses' and Other Early Political Writings. Trans. by Victor Gourevitch. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

-----. Rousseau on Philosophy, Morality, and Religion. Ed. by Christopher Kelly. Hanover: Dartmouth College Press, 2007. 212 pp.

-----. 'The Social Contract' and Other Later Political Writings. Trans. by Victor Gourevitch. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

-----. 'The Social Contract. Trans. by Maurice Cranston. London: Penguin: 1968-2007.

Secondary Sources

Alberg, Jeremiah. A Reinterpretation of Rousseau: A Religious System. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. 252 pp.

Bertram, Christopher. Rousseau and The Social Contract. London: Routledge, 2003.

Cassirer, Ernst. Rousseau, Kant, Goethe. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1945.

Cassirer, Ernst. The Question of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Trans. and ed. by Peter Gay. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1935.

Cladis, Mark S. Public Vision, Private Lives: Rousseau, Religion, and 21St-Century Democracy. New York: Columbia University Press, 2006. 360 pp.

Cooper, Laurence. Rousseau, Nature and the Problem of the Good Life. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999.

Cranston, Maurice. Jean-Jacques: The Early Life and Work. New York: Norton, 1982.

Damrosch, Leo. Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Restless Genius. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2005.

Dent, Nicholas, J. H. Rousseau : An Introduction to his Psychological, Social, and Political Theory. Oxford: Blackwell, 1988. 258 pp.

-----. A Rousseau Dictionary. Oxford: Blackwell, 1992. 279 pp.

-----. Rousseau. London: Routledge, 2005. 248 pp.

Einaudi, Mario. Early Rousseau. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1968.

Garrard, Graeme. Rousseau's Counter-Enlightenment: A Republican Critique of the Philosophes. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2003.

Gauthier, David. Rousseau: The Sentiment of Existence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Glendon, Mary Anne. “Rousseau & the Revolt against Reason.”  First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life 96 (October 1, 1999): 42-47. Posted at

Hendel, Charles W. Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Moralist. 2 vols. Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs Merrill, 1934.

McCarthy, Vincent A. Quest for a Philosophical Jesus: Christianity and Philosophy in Rousseau, Kant, Hegel, and Schelling. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1986. 240 pp.

Marks, Jonathan. Perfection and Disharmony in the Thought of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

Melzer, Arthur. The Natural Goodness of Man: On the System of Rousseau's Thought. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990.

Riley, Patrick. The Cambridge Companion to Rousseau. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

Scott, John T., and Ourida Mostefai, eds.  Rousseau and l'Infâme: Religion, Toleration, and Fanaticism in the Age of Enlightenment. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2008. 312 pp.

Simpson, Matthew. Rousseau's Theory of Freedom. London: Continuum Books, 2006.

-----. Rousseau: Guide for the Perplexed. London: Continuum Books, 2007.

Starobinski, Jean. Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Transparency and Obstruction. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988.

Strauss, Leo. "On the Intention of Rousseau," Social Research 14 (1947): 455-87.

Strong, Tracy B. Jean Jacques Rousseau and the Politics of the Ordinary. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2002.

Virioli, Maurizio. Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the 'Well-Ordered Society.' Trans, by Derek Hanson. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1988.

Williams, David Lay. Rousseau’s Platonic Enlightenment. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2007.

Wokler, Robert. Rousseau. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Wright, Christopher D. Rousseau's The Social Contract: A Reader's Guide. London: Continuum Books, 2008.

Back to top


France and Unbelief in the Nineteenth Century

The Deist and atheist thought of the Enlightenment coupled with the political discussions carried on in the salons of Paris bore fruit in the French Revolution. In the wake of the end of the monarchy, the new governing power briefly declared its allegiance to what was termed the “Cult of Reason,” (the term “cult” having a very different use than what it was put to in recent decades). Leaning advocates of the new approach to religion were the journalist Jacques Hébert, and the politician Anacharsis Cloots. The Cult of Reason lasted only a matter of months and was superseded by a “Cult of the Supreme Being, which took a more Deist approach to religion. The earlier anti-clerical thrust that emerged with the Revolution remained, however, and the new leadership led a de-Christinizatiion campaign, suppressing both Catholic and Protestant churches. In some cases, church buildings were confiscated and turned into temples to the Goddess of Reason. Violence associated with the campaign, including the desecration of many churches and sacred sites and the destruction of many sacred artifacts and pieces of religious art, created a long-lasting hostility between the communities of believers and unbelievers.

The brief Post-revolutionary anti-theism period, now remembered as the first historical incident of a state proclaiming its allegiance to an atheist philosophy, seeded both the skeptical philosophies of the post-Hegalians in Germany and the Marxist attempts to take control of France in the nineteenth century. First, however, Napoleon (r.1799-1814) worked out a new agreement with the churches (and the Jewish community) that allowed them to exist in a state of relative freedom, without fear of further suppressive activity by the government. Napoleon also agreed not to allow any public expression of atheism. 

The nineteenth century would be marked by the shifting of forces as successive governments came to power and the partisans favoring atheism or religion gained the upper hand. During the brief rule of the Paris Commune, for example, plans were in place to separate the churches from politics, assume state ownership of all church property, and banish any religious instruction from the public schools. The Commune was ended by conservative forces opposed to atheism, which they considered an anti-French tradition. The divisions of over religion in the country eventually led to the 1905 French law on the Separation of the Churches and State which focused on three major assumptions: the state’s neutrality in matters of religion, the church’s right to freely live the religious life, and the existence of some public powers over religious institutions.

The 1905 law works in accord with the principle of laïcite, stated as"The Republic neither recognizes, nor salaries, nor subsidizes any religion." While Catholicism remanded the faith of most citizens, the state did not recognize it or any other religions as having official status. It also placed the church into a voluntary support system, with no public money being made available for the upkeep of churches or the salaries of clergy. This approach remains in effect in France to the present.

Meanwhile, as the status of religion was undergoing its ups and down, France became home to various advocates of atheism, with Marxism (treated elsewhere in this bibliography) gaining a significant following. Possibly no more important atheist thinker appeared than August Comte (1798-1857) who amid his broad philosophical endeavor proposed a “Religion of Positivism.”  Amid the many who would profess atheism, Comte emerged as the major writer/theorist, certainly the most prominent internationally.


Ashton, Nigel. Religion and Revolution in France, 1780-1804. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press (September 2000. 435 pp.

Cashdollar, Charles D. The Transformation of Theology 1830-1890. Positivism and Protestant Thought in Britain and America, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1989, 494 pp.

Charlton, Donald Geoffrey, Positivist Thought in France during the Second Empire 1852-1870. London: Oxford University Press 1959. 251pp.

-----. Secular Religions in France, 1815-1870, London: published for the University of Hull by the Oxford University Press, 1963.

De Lamartine, Alphonse. History of the Girondists: or, Personal memoirs of the patriots of the French revolution, from unpublished sources. Trans. by H. T. Ryde. Ann Arbor, MI: Scholarly Publishing Office, University of Michigan Library, 2005. 582 pp.

Introvigne, Massimo. “Why France? Historical and Ideological Roots of the French Anti-Cult Scare.” A paper presented at The 2001 Conference of the center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR), London, England. Posted at

Slavin, Morris. The Hebertistes to the Guillotine: Anatomy of a Conspiracy in Revolutionary France. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press 1994. 280 pp. 

Strenski, Ivan. Contesting Sacrifice: Religion, Nationalism, and Social Thought in France.  Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2002.

Tallert, Frank, and Nicholas Atkin, eds. Religion, Society and Politics in France since 1789. London: Hambledon Press 1991, 240 pp.

Watts, Charles. Atheism and the French Revolution. London: Watts & Co., 1880. 8 pp.

Wessel Mueller, Iris. John Stuart Mill and French Thought. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1956. 275 pp.

Back to top

August Comte (1798-1857) and the Religion of Positivism

French philosopher August Comte was a pioneer thinker and founder of the science sociology and the advocate of a philosophical school call positivism. He also most notably proposed the adoption of what he termed the Religion of Humanity.

After completing his education in southern France, Comte moved to Paris where he became the secretary to Henri de Saint-Simon (1760-1825), a utopian socialist theorist, who developed a theology out of a search for the essential core of Christianity which he found in Christian ethics, especially its attention to the poor. Both Saint Simon’s socialism and reductionist theology would greatly influence Comte. Comte also developed a friendship with John Stuart Mill.

By 1830, Comte had begun to develop his own philosophy and began to publish it in a series of short writings released through the decade. These set the stage for his important text, A General View of Positivism (1848, English ed., 1865). The work of social science was to build on natural science and move toward a reordering of society on a scientific basis.

Positive philosophy, for Comte, evolved into the Religion of Humanity which would function to meet the continuing needs that religion had fulfilled in the past. This idea was not as well received as his earlier work, but did receive a hearing in the various Freethought organizations that began to arise in the last half of the twentieth century. Many of his followers accepted the idea of a “Religion of Humanity,” but did not like Conte’s particular vision of what such a religion would consist.

For a more complete bibliography of Comte, mostly in French, see

Primary Sources

Comte, August. Auguste Comte and Positivism. The Essential Writings. Ed. by Gertrude Lenzer. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975.

-----. The Catechism of Positive Religion: Or Summary Exposition of the Universal Religion in Thirteen Systematic Conversations between a Woman and a Priest of Humanity. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009. 320 pp.

-----.  The Essential Comte. Ed. by Stanislav Andrevski. New-York, Harper and Row, 1974.

-----. A General View of Positivism. Trans. by J. H. Bridges. Cambridges, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009. 444 pp.

Secondary Sources

Besant, Annie. Auguste Comte: His Philosophy, His Religion, and His Sociology, London: Freethought Publishing Company, n.d. [1885]. 39 pp.

Bilington, James H. "The Intelligentsia and the Religion of Humanity." American Historical Review 65 (1959-60).

Bryson, Gladys. “Early English Positivists and the Religion of Humanity.” American Sociological Review 1 (June 10936): 630-63.

Caird, Edward, The Social Philosophy and Religion of Comte, Glasgow: James Maclehose and Sons, 1893. 210 pp.

Call, Wathen Mark Wilks, and John Chapman. "The Religion of Positivism." Westminster Review XII (1858).

Charlton, Donald Geoffrey. Positivist Thought in France during the Second Empire 1852-1870. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1951. 

-----. Secular Religions in France, 1815-1870. London & New York: Oxford University Press, 1963.

Conway, Moncure D. "What is the Religion of Humanity." Free Religious Index I (1880-81).

Eisen, Sydney. “Frederic Harrison and Herbert Spencer: Embattled Unbelievers.” Victorian Studies 12 (1968): 33-56.

-----. “Frederic Harrison and the Religion of Humanity.” South Atlantic Quarterly 66 (Autumn 1967): 574-90.

Fletcher, Ronald. Auguste Comte and the Making of Sociology. London: Athlona Press, 1966,

Gould, Frederick James. Auguste Comte. London: Watts, 1920.

Kent, Christopher. Brains and Numbers: Elitism, Comtism and Democracy in mid-Victorian England. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1978

Lenzer, Gertrude. Auguste Comte and Positivism. The Essential Writings. Ed. by Gertrude Lenzer. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975.

-----.  A General View of Positivism. Trans. by H. H. Bridges. London: Trubner and Co., 1865 Rpt.: Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

-----. Catechism of Positive Religion. Trans. by Richard Congreve. London; Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner and Co., 1891. Rpt. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

-----.  The Positive Philosophy of Auguste Comte; 2 vols. Trans by Harriet Martineau. London: Chapman, 1853. Rpt.: Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

McGee, John Edwin. A Crusade for Humanity: The History of Organized Positivism in England. London: Watts, 1931.

Mill, John Stuart. August Comte and Positivism. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1961. 200 pp.

Norhausberber, Rudolf C. The Historical-Philosophical Significance of Comte, Darwin, Marx and Freud. Human Development Library. Albuquerque, American Classical College Press, 1983, 139 pp.

Paris, Bernard J. “George Eliot’s Religion of Humanity.” English Literary History 29 (December 1962): 418-43.

Pickering Mary.  Auguste Comte: An Intellectual Biography. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993, 2006.

Salmon, Martha. Frederic Harrison: The Evolution of an English Positivist, 1831-1881. New York: Columbia University, Ph.D. dissertation, 1958.

Sellars, Roy Wood, "Positivism in Contemporary Philosophic Thought." American Sociology Review 4 (1939).

Simon, Walter M. European Positivism in the Nineteenth Century: An Essay in Intellectual History. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1963.

Style, Jane M. August Comte: Thinker and Lover. London: Kegan Paul, Trench and Trübner, 1928.

Thompson, Kenneth. Auguste Comte: The Founder of Sociology. London, Nelson, 1976.

Wernick, Andrew. Auguste Comte and the Religion of Humanity: The Post-theistic Program of French Social Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001. 292 pp.

Wright, Terence R., The Religion of Humanity. The Import of Comtean Positivism on Victorian Britain. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986. 324 pp.

Back to top


France and Unbelief in the Twentieth Century

Through the ups and downs of the nineteenth century, Unbelief grew steadily. It would find expression in literature as well as the more formal philosophical writings, and become entrenched in the Socialist Party. A peculiar form of Freemasonry would arise in France that abandoned the Deist idea of God as the “Great Architect of the Universe” in favor of an avowed atheism.

Atheist thought took many forms, finding expression in Marxism, existentialism, and phenomenology, and included many of France’s intellectual elite—Jean Wahl (1888-1974), Alexandre Kojève (1902-1968), Georges Bataille (1897-1962), Maurice Blanchot (1907-2003), Eugene Ionesco (1909-1994), Jacques Monod (1910-1976), Albert Camus (1913-1960), Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1908-1961), Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980), Michel Foucault (1926-1984), and Jacques Derrida (1930-2004).  It continues with still active philosophers Alain Badiou, Jean-Luc Nancy, and Quentin Meillassoux.


Al-Saji, Alia. “The Temporality of Life: Merleau-Ponty, Bergson, and the Immemorial Past.” Southern Journal of Philosophy 45, 2 (2007):177-206.

Archard, David, Marxism and Existentialism, the Political Philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Belfast: Blackstaff Press, 1980..

Badiou, Alan. Being and Event, transl. by Oliver Feltham. New York: Continuum, 2005.

-----. Briefings on Existence: A Short Treatise on Transitory Ontology, transl. by Norman Madarasz. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2005.

Bataille, George. Theory of Religion. Trans. by Robert Hurley, Cambridge, MA: Zone Books, 1989.

Berman, Michael. “Reflection, Objectivity, and the Love of God, a Passage From Merleau-Ponty's Phenomenology of Perception.” Heythrop Journal 51, 5 (2010).
Blanchot, Maurice. The Blanchot Reader.  Ed. by Michael Holland. Oxford: Blackwell, 1995.

-----. The Station Hill Blanchot Reader. Ed. By Geroge Quasha. Barrytown, NY: Station Hill of Barrytown, 1998.

-----. Maurice Blanchot: The Thought from Outside. Ed. by Michel Foucault. Cambridge, MA: Zone Books, 1989.

Cusset, Francois. French Theory: How Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze, & Co. Transformed the Intellectual Life of the United States. Trans. by Jeff Fort. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008.

Derrida , Jacques. Acts of Religion. New York: Routledge, 2002.

-----. Deconstruction Engaged: The Sydney Seminars. Sydney: Power Publications, 2001.

-----. Ethics, Institutions, and the Right to Philosophy. Trans by Peter Pericles Trifonas. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002.

-----. On Touching, Jean-Luc Nancy. Palo Alro, CA: Stanford University Press, 2005.

-----, with Jürgen Habermas. Philosophy in a Time of Terror: Dialogues with Jürgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003.

Descombes, Vincent. Modern French Philosophy. Trans. by L. Scott-Fox and J.M. Harding. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1980.

Foucault, Michel. The Foucault Reader. Ed. by Paul Rabinow. New York: Vintage, 1984. 440 pp.

-----. Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason. New York: Vintage, 1988. 320 pp.

Gaensbauer, Deborah B. Eugene Ionesco Revisited. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1996.

Galston, David. Archives and the Event of God: The Impact of Michel Foucault on Philosophical Theology. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2010. 200 pp.

Geroulanos, Stephanos. An Atheism that Is Not Humanist Emerges in French Thought. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 2010. 448 pp.

Greeley, Andrew. Religion in Europe at the End of the Second Millennium: A Sociological Profile. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2004. 252 pp.

Gutting, Gary. French Philosophy in the Twentieth Century. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

 Hägglund, Martin. Radical Atheism: Derrida and the Time of Live. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 2008.

Halperin, David. Saint Foucault: Saint Foucault: Towards a Gay Hagiography. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Hecht, Jennifer Michael. The End of the Soul: Scientific Modernity, Atheism, and Anthropology in France. New York; Columbia University Press, 2005. 416 pp.

Ionesco, Eugène. Conversations with Eugene Ionesco. Trans. by Jan Dawson. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1966.

-----. Notes and Counter Notes: Writings on the Theatre. Trans. by Donald Watson. New York: Grove Press, 1964.

-----. Present Past, Past Present. Trans. by Helen R. Lane. Cambridge, mA: Da Capo Press, 1998,

 Kojève, Alexandre. Introduction to the Reading of Hegel: Lectures on the Phenomenology of Spirit. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1980.

-----.  Outline of a Phenomenology of Right. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2000.

Land, Nick, The Thirst for Annihilation: Georges Bataille and Virulent Nihilism. London: Routledge, 1992.

Lubec, Henri de. The Drama of Atheist Humanism. San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 1995. 539 pp.
Reflections of a Roman Catholic theologian/bishop.

Meillassoux, Quentin. After Finitude, an essay on the necessity of contingency. Trans. by Ray Brassier. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan/ New York: Continuum, 2008.

Meleau-Ponty, Maurice. Humanism and Terror: An Essay on the Communist Problem. Trans. by John O'Neill. Boston: Beacon Press, 1969.

-----.  Phenomenology of Perception. Trans. by Colin Smith. New York: Humanities Press, 1962. Rpt. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1962.

-----. The Visible and the Invisible, Followed by Working Notes.Tans. by Alphonso Lingis. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1968.

Merquior, J. G. Foucault. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1987.

Mills, Sara. Michel Foucault. New York: Routledge, 2003

Monod, Jacques. Chance and Necessity: An Essay on the Natural Philosophy of Modern Biology. New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1971.

Nancy, Jean-Luc. The Sense of the World. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998.

-----. A Finite Thinking. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 2003

Narville, Ernest. The Heavenly Father. Lectures on Modern Atheism. Trans. by Henry Downton. Ann Arbor, MI: Scholarly Publishing Office, University of Michigan Library, 2005. 392 pp.

Onfray, Michael. Atheist Manifesto: The Case against Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Arcade Books, 2011. 240 pp.

Roundinesco, Elisabeth. Philosophy in Turbulent Times: Canguilhem, Sartre, Foucault, Althusser, Deleuze, Derrida. New York: Columbia University Press, 2008.

Schrift, Alan. Twentieth Century French Philosophy: Key Themes and Thinkers. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2006.

Smart, Barry. Michel Foucault: Critical Assessments. New York: Routledge, 1994.

Wahl, Jean Andre. Philosophies of Existence: Introduction to the Basic Thought of Kierkegaard, Heidegger, Jaspers, Marcel and Sartre. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1969. 134 pp.

-----. Short History of Existentialism. New York: Lyle Stuart, 1972.

Watkin, Christopher. Difficult Atheism: Tracing the Death of God in Contemporary Continental Thought. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2011. 224 pp.

Wood, David, ed. Of Derrida, Heidegger, and Spirit. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1993.

Back to top

French Existentialism

Existentialism was a Twentieth century philosophical movement that can be seen as a reaction to nineteenth century European idealistic themes including the search for the essence of things. It began with an assertion of existence as a primary category, whose reality preceded essence. The movement is generally traced to the German philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), with the Danish philosopher-theologian Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) seen as an important nineteenth century precursor.

Devotees of existentialist approaches included a number of leading Protestant theologians including such as Paul Tillich (1886-1965) and Karl Barth (1886-1968), but the term is most attached to a set of French thinkers, most notably Jean-Paul Sartre, who explored new categories for understanding the nature of authentic existence. The existential quest began with a search for the nature of authentic existence and through art and literature explored what seemed like fruitful areas of human life for revealing insights--the absurd, evil, and even death—while at the same time seeing human freedom as a major clue element of authentic existence. Among those who gathered around Sartre in the mid-twentieth century, these explorations were done in what proved a largely atheistic context.

Labeling became a concern as the existentialist “movement” blossomed in the year after World War II. Novelist Albert Camus specifically repudiated it, though commentators saw him intimately linked to Sartre. Some saw the movement as more a cultural expression of literary efforts to break out of philosophical straight jackets imposed by both science and philosophy. In any case, the movement enjoyed a hey day in the 1960s and while fading as a popular culture phenomenon, remains as an important intellectual current in Western thought. 

Atheist existentialism is primarily tied to three figures—Albert Camus, the German writer Franz Kafka, and Jean-Paul Sartre. These three and their close associates produced a vast set of literature and provoked an even larger set of writings that has attempted to respond and understand their existentialist thought. The list below merely hits a few high points.


Aron, R. Marxism and the Existentialists. New York: Harper and Row, 1969.

Collins, J. The Existentialists: A Critical Study. Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1952.

Cooper, David E. Existentialism. Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 1999. 220 pp.

Fox, Michael Allen. The Remarkable Existentialists. Amherst, NY: Humanity Books, 2008. 323 pp.

Guignon, Charles., 2003. The Existentialists: Critical Essays on Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Sartre, New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 2003.

-----, and D. Pereboom, eds. Existentialism: Basic Writings. Indianapolis: Hackett, 2001.

 McBride, W., ed. The Development and Meaning of Twentieth Century Existentialism. New York: Garland Publishers, 1997.

Macquarrie, John. Existentialism. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1972. 252 pp.

Wahl, Jean Andre. Philosophies of Existence: Introduction to the Basic Thought of Kierkegaard, Heidegger, Jaspers, Marcel and Sartre. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1969. 134 pp.

-----. Short History of Existentialism. New York: Lyle Stuart, 1972.

Back to top

Albert Camus (1913 -1960)

Albert Camus was an Algerian-born French novelist who gained notoriety following the appearance of The Stranger in 1949. He went on to win the Nobel Prize for literature in 1957, his novels having spoken deeply to a generation dealing with the devastation of Europe during World War II. He then died at a relatively young age in a still controversial automobile accident in 1960.

Primary Sources

Camus, Albert. The Fall. New York: Vintage, 1991. 160 pp.

-----. Lyrical and Critical Essays. New York: Vintage, 1970. 384 pp.

-----. The Myth of Sisyphus: And Other Essays. New York: Vintage, 1991. 224 pp.

-----. The Plague. New York: Vintage, 1992. 320 pp.

-----. The Rebel: An Essay on Man in Revolt. Vintage, 1992. 320 pp.

-----. Resistance Rebellion, and Death. New York: Vintage, 1974. 288 pp.

-----. The Stranger. Trans. by Matthew Ward. London: Everyman's Library, 1993. 160 pp.

Secondary Sources

Lottman, Herbert R. Albert Camus: A Biography. Berkeley, CA: Gingko Press, 1997. 805 pp.

McBride. Joseph. Albert Camus. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 1993. 320 pp.

Sprintzen, David A., and Adrian Van Den Hoven, eds. Sartre and Camus: A Historic Confrontation. Amherst, NY: Humanity Books, 2004. 275 pp.

Todd, Oliver. Albert Camus: A Life. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2000. 448 pp.

Back to top

Franz Kafka (1883-1924)

A German novelist born into a secularized Jewish family in Prague, Kafka was given a classical German education. He worked at several mundane occupations to provide sustenance while pursuing his writing. He published little during his life, and all his important worked only appeared posthumously. After World War II, the sense of hopelessness and the absurd that fill the attention of Kafka’s readers led to his identification with the existentialism of Camus and Sartre. Kafka died from the effects of tuberculosis.

Kafka research is focused at the Oxford Kafka Research Center in England.

Primary Sources

Kafka, Franz. The Castle. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. 336 pp.

-----. The Diaries of Franz Kafka. New York: Schocken Books, 1988. 528 pp.

-----. Franz Kafka: The Complete Stories. Ed. by Nathan N. Glatzer. New York: Schocken Books, 1995. 488 pp.

-----. The Metamorphosis and Other Stories. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. 208 pp.

Secondary Sources

Brod, Max. Franz Kafka. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 1995. 296 pp.

Hawes, James. Why You Should Read Kafka Before You Waste Your Life. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2008. 256 pp.

Hayman, Ronad. Kafka: A Biography. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983. 368 pp.

Hubben, William. Dostoevsky Kierkegard Nietzsche and Kafka. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1997. 192 pp.

Back to top


*To view some documents on this page you may need to download Adobe Reader.
Get Acrobat Reader

Return to the Table of Contents

The statements found on this page/site are for informational purposes only.
While every effort is made to ensure that this information is up-to-date and accurate, official information can be found in the university publications.