The Center for Global Humanities presents 'Rethinking Freethought in the Early United States'

Image of colonial man
Scholar Kirsten Fischer will present “Rethinking Freethought in the Early United States” on Monday, March 28 at 6:00 p.m. at Innovation Hall at UNE’s Portland Campus.

From its beginnings, the United States witnessed a flourishing religious diversity along with the anxious impulse to contain it. Americans in the 1790s accused one another of harboring religious beliefs incompatible with patriotism. One freethinker, an intrepid young man who lost his eyesight to yellow fever in 1793, traveled up and down the coast giving lectures on his unusual beliefs about the universe and man’s place in it. Elihu Palmer questioned the religious and scientific dogma of his day, and for it, was denounced as a dangerous heretic.

A lecture at the University of New England Center for Global Humanities will tell this remarkable freethinker’s story when scholar Kirsten Fischer presents “Rethinking Freethought in the Early United States” on Monday, March 28 at 6 p.m. at Innovation Hall at UNE’s Portland Campus.

A professor of history at the University of Minnesota, Fischer is an award-winning scholar who has received numerous grants and fellowships. She has presented her work across the US as well as in France, Italy, Germany, and Canada, and has been hosted for two years at the University of Heidelberg. Over the course of her career, different questions have emerged as most compelling, leading her to pursue research projects very distinct from one another. Underlying all her work is a fascination with the experiences of non-elite or ordinary people who participated in struggles of historic importance. Her first book, Suspect Relations: Sex, Race, and Resistance in Colonial North Carolina, showed the development of racial thinking in a slave society. Her most recent book, American Freethinker: Elihu Palmer and the Struggle for Religious Freedom in the New Nation, is a biography of Elihu Palmer whose notorious attacks on Christianity tested the limits of free speech in our country’s earliest days.

In this lecture, Fischer will draw from American Freethinker to outline Palmer’s moral philosophy based on science and nature, not religion, and will explain how that radical thinking helped to establish the principle of free speech in the United States.

This third lecture of 2022 for the Center for Global Humanities will be followed by another in April. Lectures at the Center are always free, open to the public, and streamed live online. For more information and to watch the event, please visit: