Honors | Fanaticism, Persecution and Toleration (HON)
H303 | 15374 | Oscar Kenshur


TuTh 11:15am-12:30pm
HU 111

According to the Peace of Augsburg (1555) each ruler in Central
Europe had the right to decide which religion—Catholicism or
Lutheranism—was to be practiced in his domain. Lutheran families
living in the realm of a Catholic ruler, or Catholic families living
in a Lutheran territory would have a certain amount of time to move
to another country. Families who adhered to religions that were
neither Lutheran nor Catholic had nowhere to go and would suffer
accordingly. This was seen as a satisfactory resolution to the
problem of religious conflict. And forced conversions were even
seen to be a religious duty, since Jesus’ words, “Compel them to
enter,” were widely understood to mean that it was morally correct
to compel people to embrace the “true religion,” thereby saving
their souls. People who perversely embraced a religion other than
the official one were identified as fanatics.

How did the sixteenth-century notion of how to deal with religious
difference ultimately get replaced by the notion that diversity
should be tolerated and even celebrated, and that fanaticism should
be defined not as mere beliefs, but as beliefs tied to extreme
actions. The course aims to provide us with answers to this
question. We will closely examine texts—philosophical treatises,
histories, polemics, and works in a variety of literary genres—that
influenced European thought between the aftermath of the Protestant
Reformation, and the  time, two centuries later, when the American
and French Revolutions discarded state religions. We will see how
ideas evolved in response to various historical phenomena, such as
religious persecution, sectarian warfare, political revolution, and
even voyages of discovery; and, of course, how ideas evolved in
response to other ideas.

But our main emphasis will be on understanding the arguments and the
rhetorical strategies of the individual texts. When there was little
or no religious freedom, there was little or no freedom to express
unorthodox views about religion, and writers employed various
techniques to hide their true intentions from the authorities, and
sometimes even from themselves. We will see, for example, how a
satire ostensibly ridiculing non-European religions, or  a story
about visitors from outer space, could really be attacking Christian
parochialism and intolerance; or how philosophical accounts of the
nature of religious belief, or historical narratives about Roman
paganism, could  implicitly offer lessons regarding the political
value of toleration. Finally we will see how toleration, in the
sense of refraining from religious persecution, could be transformed
into a positive embrace of diversity: perhaps there are essential
religious truths that we all have access to, independently of all
religions, or perhaps divine revelation unfolds, in piecemeal
fashion over time. Perhaps, therefore, we could countenance
diversity on the ground that all religions are equally superfluous,
or on the ground that all religions are equally true.

Assignments will consist of a reading journal, a  short preliminary
paper (ungraded), and a 10-15 page term paper.

Montaigne, Apology for Raymond Sebond
Hobbes, Leviathan, Part I
Dryden, Religio Laici
Bayle, Philosophical Commentary on Luke 14:23 “Compel them to
Enter”
Locke, Letter on Toleration
Montesquieu, Persian Letters
Voltaire, Treatise on Toleration, Micromégas
Hume, Natural History of Religion, Selected Essays
Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (Chap. XV and
selections)
Lessing, Nathan the Wise, The Education of the Human Race