The Enlightenment is so broad that even a categorical topic, such as women in the Enlightenment, would be difficult to approach. I recommend choosing something that interests you, then narrowing it down even further. Rather than women in the Enlightenment, for example, you could consider female debating societies in the Age of Reason. Here are a few additional examples of narrowed focus. Notice that it’s easier to tackle something specific, like slavery, than it is to write about politics and governance in general.
Revolution: How did 17th and 18th-century philosophical trends contribute to the revolutionary fervor in Europe and the Americas? Depending on your word count, you may need to focus on a single event. You could even compare and contrast two revolutions and the philosophies that inspired them.
Imperialism. Some prominent Enlightenment-era leaders advocated for liberty and equality in the Western world while promoting imperialist goals overseas. Some of these men were slaveowners. How was this justified at the time?
The Scientific Method. Enlightenment-era ideals inspired some of the world’s foremost thinkers to question the status quo, including scientists. Consider the contributions of Sir Francis Bacon and René Descartes.
The Printing Press. What was Johannes Gutenberg’s (1400-1468) role in the Enlightenment?
Catholic dogma. Throughout the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church was the source of divine, infallible “truth.” To doubt the position of the church was heresy, and it was punished as such. How did the Enlightenment affect the church’s divine authority?
Biblical criticism. Doubting religious authority was not limited to church officials. Prominent philosophers began to openly doubt the historical veracity of “divine” texts. One of the most famous to do so was Baruch (Benedict) Spinoza, who asserted that God does not exist, the Jewish people were not chosen, and the bible was written by men in order to control the masses.
Co-occurring Enlightenments: Both secular and religious leaders have “claimed” the Enlightenment. Could both sides be correct? Is it possible for there to be more than one Enlightenment?
Topics relating to individuals, The Enlightenment and:
Mary Wollstonecraft (women’s rights)
Thomas Hobbes (reason versus passion)
John Locke (separation of church and state)
Immanuel Kant (morality)
Adam Smith (economics)
Catherine II (a monarch sympathetic to the Enlightenment)
Thomas Jefferson (Declaration of Independence)
Voltaire (for literary effects of the Enlightenment)