Religious Conflict and Toleration in the Early Modern World (seminar)

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This was a fall faculty weekend seminar held from September 17 to September 18, 2004.

The history of religious toleration has traditionally been written in intellectual and political terms, focusing on the ideas of pre-eminent thinkers who argued for toleration and the policy of governments toward religious dissenters. Recently, however, attention has shifted toward the social and cultural, as scholars have investigated how, in the wake of the Protestant and Catholic Reformations, non-elites as well as elites experienced and responded to the new religious diversity of Europe and its colonies. This faculty weekend seminar gathered twelve-to-sixteen participants to explore how the members of Europe’s various religious groups—the competing Christian denominations in the first place, but also Christians, Jews, and Muslims—related to one another in the early modern era. How, in religiously mixed communities, did these groups negotiate their daily encounters? What kinds of arrangements and accommodations made peaceful coexistence possible in some places? Why did toleration prevail in some communities while others (or the same communities at different times) descended into sectarian violence? Such an investigation will necessarily examine religious conflict as well as toleration. Themes explored were shaped by participants’ own research interests, and included the rise—and limits—of confessional piety; the equation of civic and sacral community; the intersection of religion with national and ethnic identities; arrangements for worship, power-sharing, charity, education, and burial; boundary-formation and -violation; and patterns of integration versus segregation. The selection committee sought a diversity of expertise in different geographic areas, including the Ottoman Empire, opening a comparative perspective onto these issues.

Director: Benjamin Kaplan is Professor of Dutch History at University College London, with a joint appointment at the University of Amsterdam. His publications include Calvinists and Libertines: Confession and Community in Utrecht, 1578–1620 (1995). He is currently working on a book entitled Divided by Faith: Religious Conflict and the Practice of Toleration in Early Modern Europe.