Skip to main content

Tyler Clemente ’23

2021 SOAR Profile

Was the French Revolution a Religious Revolution? Maximilien Robespierre and the Cult of the Supreme Being

Major and Minor: History with a minor in Political Science; secondary education certification
Hometown: Easton, PA
Project Advisor(s): Dr. Heikki Lempa

Briefly describe your project.

Prior to the start of my project, a more general question that I had was: How important is religion for revolutions? The French Revolution proved an excellent case to explore this. As such, my project sought to explore how and why Maximilien Robespierre, the ideologue of the Revolution, created the Cult of the Supreme Being. First, through secondary sources, I expanded my knowledge on Robespierre as well as on the Catholic, atheist, and deistic religions. Then, I extensively analyzed primary sources produced by Robespierre, as well as from an encyclopedia produced during his time. These sources provided insight on his intentions. Finally, I juxtaposed historians’ views on the Cult of the Supreme Being and formulated my own distinct thesis.

Tyler Clemente '23

Tyler Clemente '23

Describe the origin of your project. (E.g., did you pitch the idea and choose a faculty member, or did they come to you with an idea?)

Dr. Lempa reached out to me in the winter of 2021. He asked if I would be interested in completing a SOAR project on a topic of interest. I agreed, and he then worked with me to develop a research question that was connected to previous work I completed in his courses. Specifically, I had been interested in studying revolutions. I sought to explore how religion is tied to them. I had previously researched the French Revolution and Robespierre. However, not many historians explored his role in creating a short-lived religion. Hence, this sparked my interest as a point of research.

What’s the best part about working with your faculty mentor? What valuable insights have they brought to your project?

Dr. Lempa was an excellent mentor. Throughout my research, he always made himself available. He was more than happy to increase our meeting time to twice a week. Each meeting consisted of valuable discussion of my topic, future plans in the research, and even current events that connected to my topic. Additionally, he always responded quickly via email to any questions I had.

Dr. Lempa was passionate, insightful, and consistently offered nuanced perspectives regarding aspects of my topic and research. He provided crucial resources that facilitated my research as well. Undoubtedly, working with Dr. Lempa since my freshman year, he has always had my best interest.

What has been your biggest obstacle so far?

The largest challenge I faced during my project was a scarcity of time. It is difficult to produce a quality, article-length research paper in a matter of ten weeks. Finding translated primary sources took more time than expected. Additionally, my thesis developed and changed as I wrote the paper. As such, this made the editing process, especially in terms of the paper’s organization, more time-consuming.

What has been your biggest takeaway from this experience?

Conducting SOAR research facilitated my growth as a student. I was able to expand my knowledge of historical methods and research. This will facilitate success in future history courses, especially those that are writing intensive. I was also required to produce a quality piece in a short amount of time. Hence, I developed improved time management skills. I learned how to become more organized when conducting research as well. Most importantly, though, I learned the importance of trial and error in historical research; it is all part of the process.

What was the result of your project?

Ultimately, my project was not a “perfectly-finished” product, as the editing process for an article-length paper is extensive. Nonetheless, I was very satisfied with it. I made sure that I had enough time to make critical edits and that the paper flowed well. Additionally, I made sure that my thesis was well-supported throughout the paper. I successfully completed an in-depth historical research paper, incorporating a mix of primary and secondary sources that shaped my argument. I was able to more clearly discern Robespierre’s motives in creating the Cult of the Supreme Being. Specifically, they were not one-sided. Robespierre sought to solidify himself as head of the Revolution and to advance revolutionary principles, including equality and virtue.

In your own words, how do you feel about being awarded this opportunity? Why should other students take advantage of the SOAR program at Moravian University?

I was honored when Dr. Lempa asked me to execute SOAR research. I had worked especially hard to produce quality works both in his previous courses and as a research assistant. As such, it was rewarding to know that he believed I would be successful in the program. Being chosen and awarded the opportunity was a true privilege. I was also the only student who carried out a project in the history field.

I would highly recommend that other students take advantage of the SOAR program. Throughout, I was able to hone my research skills and knowledge of the subject matter for which I was passionate. If a student has an avid interest in a topic and/or wants to further explore it, I would encourage him or her to apply. SOAR is interdisciplinary, which opens availability to all students. Additionally, if students can find a professor that they work well with and who shares similar research interests, this makes the experience all the better.

Now that SOAR is over, do you plan to expand upon your research? If so, how?

Yes, I intend on expanding upon my research. I plan on either taking the History Senior Seminar course or carrying out an honors project. In either case, I intend on researching a revolution that I have not analyzed before and developing a research question that ties in with religion. I also intend on continuing working with Dr. Lempa as a research assistant. My research has focused on Africa. As such, I can explore different aspects of religion in Africa and their roles in revolutions on the continent.

Have you, or do you plan to present this research outside the SOAR presentations? If so, where? Be specific, if possible.

Yes, I plan on presenting my research outside the SOAR presentations. Specifically, I intend to apply to the National Conference on Undergraduate Research. If accepted, I would present in the spring semester of 2022. I will continue to search for more opportunities to present my research.