By Ian Crowe
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Additional resources for An Imaginative Whig: Reassessing the Life and Thought of Edmund Burke
Burke and Religion ` 27 with which Burke typically invests what is nearest and dearest to him. Yet the reserved language is appropriate in a letter to a stranger, which Burke knew might become public property. Further, Burke grew up in the Church of Ireland, an anomalous institution not, as he is likely to have experienced it, calculated to inspire love and affection. Transplanted to England in 1750, he could hardly feel the deep emotional identification with the Church of England of one who had belonged to it since birth.
9. Burke to William Robertson, June 9, 1777, in Correspondence, 3:351. Burke and Religion ` 23 purpose buildings, such as temples. According to the classical sources, the Druids had none, worshipping in groves. 10 The same prejudice surfaces in the Account of the European Settlements in America (1757). Nomadic hunters, Burke generalizes, “are seldom very religious. ” This illustrates the extent to which Burke’s “philosophy” of religion reflected the norms of his own milieu. Building temples was a marker of religion and civilization.
First, the surviving evidence, as so often with Burke, is abundant but uneven. Second, Burke wrote no systematic treatise about religion. Any attempt to construct one for him from scattered materials intended for other purposes risks misrepresentation. Third, “religion” itself, in the West at least, has lost so much ground to secular, scientific, and naturalistic interpretations of the world that we are liable to two opposite kinds of anachronism: to overinterpret the significance of references to God and religion or to refuse to take them seriously at all.