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acknowledged, most governments came by slow degrees to adopt official policies of toleration, legally defined positions that allowed some diversity in religious expression at the same time that they maintained the privileged status of an established church. Toleration was thus a compromise that modified the long tradition of territorial and enforced religious uniformity, and while specific policies varied from state to state, some form of toleration preceded the practice of full religious equality, which in general was not attained until the nineteenth century (the only exceptions being several British colonies in North America).

The subjects of toleration and religious liberty are particularly vulnerable to teleological treatments that link human progress to the growth of freedom and secularization. Recent scholarship has sought to avoid this teleological tendency by demonstrating the episodic, halting, and incomplete progress of toleration and by balancing the theory of toleration against the equally plausible theory of a unitary, confessional state. Recent studies have also examined the interplay between the conceptual development and the actual practice of toleration, and they have employed comparative methods that examine ideas in the context of widely different cultures and historical circumstances. Attention has also been given to the specifically Christian sources of early toleration theory and to the local congregations that nurtured these ideas, while the well-known, canonical texts authored by religious sceptics and non-believers are placed within the broader religious and social framework.

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