Founded by: Adam Weishaupt
Date: May 1, 1776
Location: Bavaria, Germany
A Jesuit, Adam Weishaupt supported Europe's intellectual renaissance of the late 18th century - a dangerous conflict of interests. So he founded a secret group of like minded individuals who called themselves "Illuminati" or "bearers of light."
The group's ideology appears to have been based on a random mixing of Rosicrucianism, Cabalistic mysticism, Gnosticism, Jesuit organization, and even Masonry - which itself appears to have elements of Egyptian mysticism and Babylonian cosmology. The goal of the Illuminati was to make people happy, and people were supposed to be happy by becoming good. That, in turn, is supposed to be achieved by "enlightening" them and getting them to reject the domination of "superstition and prejudice." This was a very common attitude among leaders of the Enlightenment all over Europe, and so far Weishaupt is not proving to be especially unusual, at least if you exclude his devotion to secrecy. This is important to keep in mind, because it would be hasty to assume that anyone holding similar beliefs was automatically a member of the Illuminati. Because these ideas were popular at the time, it is easy to see that a person might develop them quite independent of Illuminati influence.
Critics alleged that this process of enlightening meant an elimination of Christianity and placing Illuminati leaders in charge of governments around the world. This may or may not have been true, although the organization does appear to have been driven by a few men's megalomania, and such people might be capable of just such a goal. Unfortunately for Masonry, the Illuminati spread themselves by infiltrating Masonic Lodges - and thus the two became forever linked for conspiracy theorists.
Many different things have been attributed to the Illuminati, such as the French Revolution. At one point, Thomas Jefferson was accused of being an Illuminati agent. It is probably true that at least some Illuminati ideas circulated among European revolutionaries, especially in France and America. But as previously mentioned, those ideas were not entirely unique to the Illuminati - so the existence of any sort of direct influence is difficult to argue. At the very least, it is highly unlikely the Illuminati as an organization managed to pull off anything quite so dramatic as the French Revolution, or get an American President elected for the purpose of destroying Christianity. But just try telling that to a True Believer.
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What is the Philosophy of Religion?
Sometimes confused with theology, the Philosophy of Religion is the philosophical study of religious beliefs, religious doctrines, religious arguments and religious history. The line between theology and the philosophy of religion isn't always sharp, but the primary difference is that theology tends to be apologetical in nature, committed to the defense of particular religious positions, whereas Philosophy of Religion is committed to the investigation of religion itself, rather than the truth of any particular religion.