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Varieties of Jewish Experience

- Abstract

We are modern, of course, but what does that mean? How long have we been modern? When did modern begin? In the schools modern history is generally understood to date from the years between 1450 and 1525—though Bury, of The Idea of Progress, a professor of modern history, did his specifically historical work on the later Roman Empire. It isn’t much of an objection to modernity beginning with the Renaissance and the Reformation that these entities may not be entities at all, that when one looks closely at them they seem to dissolve until almost nothing distinctively new is left. Granted that the scholars have long known about the 12th-century renaissance and have long reminded us that there were reformations of various kinds centuries before the Reformation; whatever may be the microscopic view, when we step back there is a difference between Middle Ages and Renaissance, between Christianity before the Protestant Reformation and Christianity after. It is no disproof of the difference that students are examined on the medieval elements or survivals in Shakespeare. From 1450 to 1525 makes sense as the beginning of modernity. It was the time of Gutenberg, Copernicus, Machiavelli, Columbus, Luther. It was the time of the consolidation of nation-states as we know them, especially in Western Europe. It was the beginning of the ascendancy of Western power and Western thought in the affairs of the entire world.

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