Religious Conflict and Toleration in the Early Modern World

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 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. Discussions on religious conflict and toleration addressed such issues as how groups negotiated their daily encounters in religiously mixed communities; the kinds of arrangements and accommodations that made peaceful coexistence possible in some places; and the conditions under which toleration prevailed in some communities while descending into sectarian violence in others (or in the same communities at different times). Themes explored in the seminar included as well the rise--and limits--of confessional piety; the equation of civic and sacral communities; 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. Examinations of different geographic areas, including the Ottoman Empire, enabled comparative perspectives into these issues.

About this site

The essays below are designed as resources to encourage further investigations into these timely subjects. Featured here are contributions from scholars in English, French, and History, which highlight and illuminate the following themes:

This website was created by Elizabeth Sauer (Brock University, Canada) in consultation with both Benjamin Kaplan, Director of the 2004 Folger Institute Seminar on "Religious Conflict and Toleration in the Early Modern World" and Kathleen Lynch, Executive Director of the Folger Institute. Much gratitude is owed as well to Michael Ullyot, SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Oxford, who designed the site. This project was generously funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

Unless otherwise noted, all content of the website is "Copyright © The Folger Shakespeare Library ®." For more information, please consult the Folger's Copyright and Permissions web page.

Seminar Participants

  • Benjamin Kaplan (Director) 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), and Divided by Faith: Religious Conflict and the Practice of Toleration in Early Modern Europe is in-progress.
  • Angela Balla: English, University of Michigan
  • Thomas E. Carney: Legal, Ethical, and Historical Studies, University of Baltimore
  • Allyson F. Creasman: History, Sewanee, University of the South
  • Jo Ann Moran Cruz: History, Georgetown University
  • Robin Farabaugh: English, University of Maryland, Baltimore County
  • Jesse M. Lander: English, University of Notre Dame
  • Katherine Maynard: French, Washington College
  • Elizabeth Sauer: English, Brock University
  • Claire Schen: History, University at Buffalo, State University of New York
  • Silvia C. Shannon: History, Saint Anselm College
  • C. Jan Swearingen: English, Texas A&M University
  • Samuel S. Thomas: History, Wittenberg University
  • Nicholas Thompson: Religious Studies, University of Aberdeen
  • Raymond D. Tumbleson: English, Kutztown University
  • Gillian Weiss: History, Case Western Reserve University
  • Jane K. Wickersham: Center for Renaissance Studies, Newberry Library