Evan Haefeli

in Atlantic History

ISBN: 9780199730414
Published online December 2012 | | DOI:

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Toleration, also known as religious tolerance, is a topic in transition. Until recently it was restricted largely to leading individuals and their ideas: John Locke, Pierre Bayle, William Penn, Roger Williams, and so forth. Scholarship on such thinkers remains vital and should also be consulted. However, in the past decade or so there has been a growing appreciation of the social and cultural experience and practice of toleration among common people. This has expanded the range of questions, sources, and interests connected to toleration. It has also contributed to the growing realization among scholars that toleration is no longer as simple and straightforward a topic as was once thought. How to define it, for example, is something of a vexing issue that has not yet produced a consensus. Many scholars seek to resolve at least part of the dilemma by defining tolerance and toleration as separate dimensions of the issue of coexistence. In all of this, the question of tolerance for the early modern period is primarily about religion, though there can be some overlap with ethnicity. Consequently, the histories of various religious groups, particularly Protestant dissenters such as Quakers and Baptists, Catholics in Protestant territories, or Huguenots and Jews anywhere are indispensable to the history of toleration. The Atlantic world plays a crucial (if not always appreciated) role in the history of toleration, if only because it produced the United States and its first constitutional amendment forbidding the establishment of a national church. Nonetheless, there is much more, from the less studied and celebrated histories of other colonies in the Caribbean and South America, to the question of the relationship between tolerance in the colonies and tolerance in Europe. For example, Roger Williams and William Penn played significant roles in both the European toleration debates and the founding of American colonies. Work on religious tolerance has not been a vital part of Atlantic history so far. There is thus a need for more research (not least on the African side of the story). However, the dynamism of the European scholarship offers much of interest and inspiration. Scholarship is beginning to take up the question of toleration in the Atlantic world anew, adapting the new cosmopolitan approaches of the European work to the Atlantic experience.

Article.  4464 words. 

Subjects: History of the Americas ; European History ; African History ; History ; Regional and National History

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