Year of Graduation


Level of Access

Open Access Thesis

Embargo Period


Department or Program


First Advisor

Meghan Roberts


While the Enlightenment was once seen as a unique product of Western intellectual heritage, recent scholars have started to challenge this Eurocentric notion with the concept of a “global Enlightenment” by considering how it was shaped by cross-cultural encounters. To contribute to this body of scholarship, I trace the reception history of Confucianism in eighteenth-century France and examine how Chinese philosophy played a part in shaping and stimulating Enlightenment discourse. My research starts with the Jesuit missionaries who served as the intellectual intermediaries between China and Europe. Through a close reading of Confucius Sinarum Philosophus, a Latin translation of Confucian classics, I demonstrate how the Jesuits produced a Christianized reading of Confucianism that they could leverage for their spiritual and political ambitions. Then, I examine how some of the most notable figures of the French Enlightenment, such as Pierre Bayle, Voltaire, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau appropriated Confucian ideals to criticize religious orthodoxy and debate about subjects such as universalism, religious tolerance, and civilization. While the French thinkers mostly weaponized Confucianism for their own ends, their appropriation allowed this imported philosophy to become relevant in a new context and tangibly shape Enlightenment conversations. This understanding helps us see the Enlightenment as a junction, or even product, of a cross-cultural fertilization of ideas rather than an isolated European phenomenon.