Brian Kjær Olesen

Brian Kjær Olesen




2016    PhD, European University Institute, Florence, Italy

2011    Master of Research, European University Institute, Florence, Italy

2009    MA in History, University of Southern Denmark, Odense, Denmark

2007    BA in History, University of Southern Denmark, Odense, Denmark



Research and Research Interests


My current postdoctoral research, ‘Liberty, Monarchy, and Toleration: The Enlightenment in Scandinavia – Scandinavia in the Enlightenment’ (facilitated by an Individual Postdoc Grant from the Independent Research Fund Denmark – Humanities), is focused on the intellectual history of the Enlightenment in its European and Scandinavian contexts. Focusing on debates on liberty, monarchy, and toleration, the project aims to think anew about the Enlightenment in Scandinavia and its intellectual ramifications. Challenging, especially, the paradigm of the "radical" Enlightenment, the project has two main objectives. First, relying not on simplistic representations of radical as opposed to moderate Enlightenment, the project reconstructs the diversity of positions that constituted the intellectual history of the Enlightenment in Scandinavian, situating key writers in relation to local concerns and controversies as well as the wider trans-European contexts in which Enlightenment thought developed. Secondly, it aims to re-enter the Enlightenment into its proper religious setting, claiming that the embrace of liberty and toleration resulted not form radical doctrines, but from the religious concerns of the early Enlightenment itself.


I completed my PhD thesis, ‘Monarchism, Religion, and Moral Philosophy: Ludvig Holberg and the Early Northern Enlightenment’, at the European University Institute, Florence, Italy, in April 2016. Focusing on the Danish-Norwegian writer Ludvig Holberg (1684-1754), my PhD situates Holberg’s thought on morality, religion and monarchy in the context of diverse traditions of thought ranging from Lutheranism, modern natural law and Enlightened Arminianism. Through his engagement with both local concerns and the trans-European republic of letters, Holberg is interpreted as an exponent of an early northern Enlightenment. After defending my PhD, I was a visiting postdoctoral fellow at the Interdisziplinäres Zentrum für die Erforschung der Europäischen Aufklärung (IZEA), Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg, from October to November 2016. At the IZEA, I pursued a project on religious toleration in the Scandinavian Enlightenment, focusing especially on the religious and political thought of Holberg, the earliest Scandinavian author to offer an intellectual defence of religious toleration.


My wider research interests include:


  • Political Thought and Intellectual History
  • Enlightenment in Local, Regional, and Global Context, especially the Northern Enlightenment
  • History of Science and Knowledge
  • Scandinavia in the Long Eighteenth Century
  • Monarchism and Republicanism 
  • Liberty, Religious Toleration, and the Rights of Man
  • Enlightenment, Religion, and Modernity 
  • Early Modern and Enlightenment Theories of Natural Law
  • The Republic of Letters and Intellectual Authority
  • Historical Theory and Methodology
  • Global Intellectual History


Academic Networks

Since 2016 I have been a Research Network Member of “Natural Law 1625-1850: An International Research Project”, organized by Frank Grunert, Knud Haakonssen, and Diethelm Klippel, and a member of The European Society for the History of Political Thought.




I have previously been teaching an MA-course on Enlightenment in Denmark, Scandinavia, and Europe: Contexts, Ideas and Practices

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