Van der Lugt, Mara

Core Areas

History of philosophy, early modern philosophy, history of the early Enlightenment, early modern political thought, theology, scepticism, deism, libertinism

Current research

At the roots of modern atheism lie many sources, but one of them is undoubtedly the problem of evil: the question of how an all-good, all-knowing and all-powerful God could permit the presence of evil in the world. This problem had haunted theologians since the dawn of Christianity, yet it was not until the publication of the Dictionnaire Historique et Critique by the French philosopher Pierre Bayle in 1696 that it came to occupy the intellectual stage as the greatest philosophical challenge to Christian thought. This project studies the shifting dynamics of the philosophical debate on evil from the mid-seventeenth to late eighteenth century, with special focus on the role played by Bayle’s Dictionnaire in reshaping the terms of this debate, which was accompanied by a clash between philosophical optimism and pessimism. The project will also examine the ways in which abstract arguments on evil were impacted by concrete accounts of suffering, and how this interaction developed in eighteenth-century philosophy. Furthermore, the shifting way in which authors made sense of both historical and personal misfortune, of public and private tragedy, went hand in hand with the staggering changes in the Enlightenment’s interpretation and evaluation of the Book of Job, which, consequently, will be a central part of my research. Finally, since Bayle, Leibniz and others connected the problem of evil to a philosophical inquiry into the nature of pain and pleasure, the project will also tie into the history and philosophy of science and emotions.


I received my doctorate (DPhil) in History at the University of Oxford in 2014; my dissertation focussed on Pierre Bayle, especially his Dictionnaire Historique et Critique (1696). Before this, I completed a Master in Philosophy and a Research Master in Early Modern Intellectual History at Erasmus University Rotterdam in 2010, focussing especially on questions of interpretation and dissimulation in early modern philosophers such as John Toland.

Selected publications

  • “‘I will utter dark sayings of old’: John Toland, pantheism and pathos of secrecy”. De Achttiende Eeuw, Vol. 44, No. 1 (2012), p. 103-130.
  • “Bayle’s absent presences: Descartes and other guests in the Dictionnaire Historique et Critique“. Romance Studies, Vol. 31, Nos. 3-4 (Nov. 2013), p. 189-199.
  • Bayle, Jurieu and the Dictionnaire Historique et Critique (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016).