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Religion and the Early Royal Society

Peter Harrison
S & CB 22 (1)
April 2010


The 1663 charter of the Royal Society declares that its activities shall be devoted ‘to the glory of God the Creator, and the advantage of the human race’. Yet other documents associated with the early Royal Society note that its fellows scrupulously avoided ‘meddling with Divinity, Metaphysics, Moralls’. This paper considers these apparently contradictory statements and seeks to offer an account of the roles which religion did, and did not, play in the pursuits and aspirations of the early Royal Society. In doing so, it gives consideration to a range of theories about the influence of religion on seventeenth century English science, including those of R.K. Merton, Charles Webster and Stephen Gaukroger.

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