The 18th-century German thinker Adam Weishaupt would have been stunned if he had known his ideas would one day fuel global conspiracy theories, and inspire best-selling novels and blockbuster films.
Until he was 36, the vast majority of his compatriots would have been equally stunned to discover that this outwardly respectable professor was a dangerous enemy of the state, whose secret society, the Illuminati, was seen to threaten the very fabric of society.
Born in 1748 in Ingolstadt, a city in the Electorate of Bavaria (now part of modern-day Germany), Weishaupt was a descendant of Jewish converts to Christianity. Orphaned at a young age, his scholarly uncle took care of his education, and enrolled him in a Jesuit school. After completing his studies, Weishaupt became a professor of natural and canon law at the University of Ingolstadt, married, and started a family. On the surface, it was a conventional enough career—until 1784 when the Bavarian state learned of his incendiary ideas.