Critical Enthusiasm concerns itself with two major, interrelated phenomena of the long eighteenth century: the onset of capital accumulation and the loosening of religious discourse to describe intellectual, aesthetic, and ethical experiences. Through this unusual pairing, Critical Enthusiasm shows that debates around religious radicalism are bound to the advent of capitalism at its very root: as legal precedent, as financial rhetoric, and as aesthetic form. As a result, we must contextualize the histories of religion and secularization in terms of the economic landscape of early modernity. Critical Enthusiasm contributes to new directions of scholarship in literary and legal history, secularization studies, and economic criticism. It is unique among other such projects, given that it produces a model for literary study that is simultaneously attuned to the history of capital accumulation and to the forces of religious dissent.
Adopting a comparative, transatlantic approach, Critical Enthusiasm situates the rhetoric of enthusiastic rapture in the context of the major institutional transformations of early modernity - transformation that now drive our contemporary world order: the dispossession and plunder of the globe, the rise of finance, legal reform, and the administration of racialized labor. By approaching the history of capitalism through religious debates, Critical Enthusiasm discloses legacies of aesthetic form and of global flows of capital that have been hitherto inaccessible to our study of the period. Chapters bring together the moral philosophy of the Third Earl of Shaftesbury, French Camisard religious prophesy, early modern statute law, Swift's poetry, and the political theory of Hobbes, Hume, and Locke.