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Here’s an interesting historical tidbit from some studies I did a while back (specifically, from a paper I wrote for a graduate course I took a few years ago). I was intrigued to learn about a group of thinkers I had never heard of, but who made an important contribution to Western thought.
The Cambridge Platonists were a set of scholars at Cambridge University who published works from the 1630s to the 1680s. Their works shared certain emphases, such as esteem for the philosophy of Plato (hence, their name). The two best-known Cambridge Platonists were Ralph Cudworth (1617-1689) and Henry More (1614-1687).Their importance is that they helped to define the philosophy of religion as a discipline. They even coined the term philosophy of religion.
Today, philosophy of religion is a subject within philosophy; it seeks to explore religious questions through objective, rational means—as opposed to theology, which explores religious questions from the starting point of assuming certain religious doctrines to be true.
Before the seventeenth century, philosophy and religion were mostly intertwined. The writings of the Cambridge Platonists helped separate the two concepts. Though we have largely forgotten them today, we are indebted to them for helping create an important distinction in Western thought, one that opened the way for further breakthroughs in scholarly thinking about philosophy and religion.
In short: in the 1600s, the Cambridge Platonists laid a stepping stone for Western civilization’s jog toward the Enlightenment.