IV. The Early Modern Period, 1500–1800 > A. Global and Comparative Dimensions > 2. Transformations of Major World Societies, 1500–1800 > b. Worldview Reformations
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
b. Worldview Reformations
In the major regional civilizations in the Eastern Hemisphere, the comprehensive religious syntheses that developed in the postclassical era were challenged in a number of ways. In general terms, there were efforts to articulate the basic themes of the traditions of world religions in new ways, sometimes resulting in reformations and sometimes in the creation of new religions and, more dramatically, in the emergence of altogether new worldviews by the end of the 18th century in western Europe.  1
EUROPEAN TRANSFORMATION. In western Europe, the changes involved significant challenges to the postclassical synthesis. In the Renaissance of the 15th and 16th centuries, there was a rebirth of interest in and respect for classical Greek and Roman thought. The foremost challenge to the comprehensive synthesis of the Christian scholasticism of Catholic Christianity emerged with the PROTESTANT REFORMATION of the 16th and 17th centuries. In this, the authority of the Roman Church to define doctrine and practice was challenged in a variety of ways by Protestant leaders like Martin Luther and John Calvin. Nevertheless, all of these challenges remained within the framework of Western Christianity and accepted the authority of the Bible. By the 17th century, the beginnings of the SCIENTIFIC REVOLUTION marked the start of a wholly new style of cosmology and worldview that came to characterize the modern approach. This approach did not necessarily reject traditional religious beliefs but tended to see them as only indirectly relevant to understanding the natural world. In the 18th century, the beginnings of modern secularism sought to separate religion from other areas of life, especially the political. By the end of the 18th century, foundations were created for modern worldviews and cosmologies which transformed rather than simply reformed the religious traditions of western Europe.  2
NON-EUROPEAN WORLDVIEWS also experienced a variety of reformations. In the ISLAMIC WORLD, the establishment of Shi'ite Islam as the religion of the Safavid Empire brought renewed prominence to Shi'ism and a new era of Sunni-Shi'ite conflicts in the wars between the Ottoman and Safavid states. In the world of Sunni Islam, challenges to the postclassical synthesis assumed a number of forms by the 18th century. The tolerant missionary approaches of Sufi teachers in various regions allowed for inclusion of pre-Islamic elements in the practices of newly converted societies. By the 18th century, activist reform movements in a number of regions sought to bring local practices in line with stricter interpretations of the Islamic tradition. In West Africa a series of puritanical movements and holy wars began with the jihad of Karamoko Alifa (d. 1751) in the Futa Jallon region of modern Guinea and culminated with the holy war of Usuman dan Fodio (1754–1817) (See 1754, Dec. 15) in the area of modern Nigeria. Abd al-Ra'uf al-Sinkili (d. after 1693) expressed a similar reforming spirit in Aceh in Sumatra. Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703–92) (See 1745) established a major puritanical reform tradition in Arabia which remains the foundation for the fundamentalist Saudi state today. In India a comprehensive examination of Islamic thought and practice in light of the decline of Muslim power was undertaken by Shah Wali Allah al-Dihlawi (1702–62), whose ideas provide the basis for much of modern Islamic thinking in south Asia. Within the central parts of the Ottoman Empire were a variety of reformers who were more politically oriented. In general terms, important aspects of the postclassical synthesis were rearticulated in Islamic reformations, but the overall structure of faith and practice remained intact at the end of the 18th century.  3
HINDUISM developed in a number of directions as a result of internal developments and in response to the challenges of Muslim rule. One such response constituted an attempt at reformulations that could combine Islamic and Hindu elements. For instance, Nanak (1469–1539) (See 1500) created a body of devotional literature that became the starting point for SIKHISM, a new religion that emerged during the 16th century. The Mughal emperor Akbar (1556–1605) tried unsuccessfully to establish a syncretistic court religion that could bring together the different religions of India. Within mainstream Hinduism, reform further developed in the traditions of popular devotional piety, including the special worship of Rama that emerged after the composition of the Ramcaritmanas, a retelling in the Hindi language of the story of the ancient hero Rama by the poet Tulsi Das, around 1575.  4
NEO-CONFUCIAN SYNTHESIS in China remained dominant throughout the later Ming and the Qing dynasties. Confucianism also gained new influence in China. The writings of Zhu Xi remained authoritative and officially sanctioned, but the thought of Wang Yang-ming (1472–1529) provided an idealist alternative Confucian tradition that strongly influenced reformers in the 19th and 20th centuries in both China and Japan.  5
COMPARISONS. While all of the prominent worldview traditions underwent some significant reformulation of basic positions, it was only in western Europe that, in addition to renaissance and reformation experiences, there was a major transformation of worldview. Here modern worldviews emerged as the dominant perspective by the end of the 18th century, rather than as reformed postclassical traditions.  6
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.