Religious Violence and Toleration in Early Modern Europe (1450-1750)

History R1B

Spring 2016
Day & Time: 
TuTh 500-630
  • This course satisfies the second half of the Reading and Composition Requirement.
  • For the modern secular state, the real or imagined specter of fanatical religious violence and intolerance has long served a legitimizing function. From the image of the ghoulish medieval inquisitor burning heretics to the obsession with Islamic terrorism of recent years, religious intolerance and extremism reinforces the wisdom of a pluralistic, rational, and secular order. This course will explore the history of religious intolerance and theories of toleration and pluralism as they emerged from the confessional conflicts of the early modern period. We will try to understand both what we mean by “toleration” and what early modern Europeans understood by the term and in what ways they did or did not practice it. Readings will include literature describing the ideas, tensions, and structures shaping early modern religious violence as well as the reflections of contemporaries on toleration. We will also discuss the historiography of the idea of toleration. For many years, historians accepted the narrative that the harrowing religious violence of the Reformation period ebbed as enlightened religious and political thinkers such as Sebastian Costello, John Locke, and Voltaire popularized arguments for toleration and influenced states to pass laws such as the Toleration Act of 1688. More recently, however, historians have questioned this narrative. This new perspective deconstructs the myths surrounding religious fanaticism (such as the exaggerated image of the inquisition) and reevaluates just how ‘tolerant’ and important theories of toleration were for the emergence of modern religious pluralism. Ordinary people and local communities often succeeded and often failed to find pragmatic accommodations to the reality of religious difference. Historians are much more inclined now to see western institutions, laws, and notions of pluralism as emerging through this uneven process of trial and error as opposed to great men drafting and implementing theories of toleration.  
    The emphasis in R1B is on reading, analysis, and learning to write. In addition to discussion of the readings, seminars will include workshops on writing techniques and fundamentals and argumentation strategies.