Toleration and Religious Freedom in the Early Modern and Contemporary World

26 March 2019 - 27 March 2019

SG1/2, CRASSH, Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road, Cambridge, CB3 9DT

If you would like to attend this conference, please email with a short description of your research interests.

Papers will be circulated in advance of the conference. Attendee numbers will be limited in order to facilitate discussion of the pre-circulated material and, unfortunately, it may not be possible for everyone who is interested to attend.

If a place is available, a registration fee of £25 will apply. 



Mariëtta van der Tol (University of Cambridge)

Carys Brown (University of Cambridge)

John Adenitire (University of Cambridge)

Emily S. Kempson (University of Cambridge)



In contemporary politics, the concepts of 'toleration' and 'religious freedom' go hand-in-hand. However, this has not always been the case. The persistent assumption that early modern toleration inevitably led to religious freedom has now been substantially challenged. As recent research has recognised, early modern toleration was often begrudging and limited; principled religious freedom was only rarely on the agenda. It is now widely recognised in historical scholarship that the emergence of the idea of religious freedom was far from a straightforward narrative of the eventual triumph of religious freedom over state intolerance and ingrained prejudice. In the light of contemporary challenges to the meaning and scope of religious freedom, this complex relationship between toleration and religious freedom is a pertinent as ever.

This conference will facilitate interdisciplinary engagement with historical narratives of toleration and religious freedom. Convening scholars from the disciplines of politics, history, theology and religious studies, philosophy, and law, it will allow for a rich exploration of the relevance of early modern histories of toleration to contemporary debates on religious diversity and the accommodation of minority thought and behaviour. Over two days we will discuss conceptual approaches to toleration and religious freedom as well as exploration of specific case studies from early modern and contemporary contexts.

Key questions will include: How have uses of religious space historically enabled and constrained religious freedom? How is this now affected by the shifting boundaries between public and private in a digital age? What roles do religious rituals, rites of passage, and the religious education of children play in society, and how can they be regulated? What constitutes conscientious objection, and who decides? Such themes demand an interdisciplinary approach; in creating a setting for their exploration it is hoped that this conference will prove an exciting forum for those concerned with pressing issues of tolerance and intolerance, past and present.

Keynote speaker: Professor Ben Kaplan (University College London)




Supported by the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH), the University of Cambridge's Centre for Public Law and School of the Humanities and Social Sciences, and the University of York's Morrell Centre for Toleration.


Administrative assistance:

Day 1 - Tuesday 26 March

9.00 - 9.15


9.15 - 9.45

Opening and Introduction

9.45 - 11.00


Benjamin Kaplan (University College London)

11.00 - 11.30


11.30 - 13.00

Panel 1: Perspectives on Toleration

Discussant: Theresa Bejan (University of Oxford)


Michael Moreland (Villanova University)

‘Power Ecclesiastical and Political: Hobbes and Bellarmine on Religion in the State’


Shannon Stimson (Georgetown University)

‘Heterodoxy and Political Economy: Religious Toleration and Political Arithmetic in the Writings of Sir William Petty, 1652-1687’


Alexander Tebble (University of York)

‘Where Liberalism Begins and Toleration Ends: A Comparison of Locke on Atheism and Rawls on the Unreasonable’

13.00 - 14.00


14.00 - 15.15

Panel 2: Toleration and Loyalties

Discussant: Eva Brems (University of Ghent)


Bram De Ridder (Catholic University of Leuven) and Christophe Schellekens (Leibniz Institute of European History, Mainz)

‘Religious Toleration and Peace Project (RETOPEA)'


Hans Leaman (Sattler College, Boston, Mass)

‘Managing Civic and Religious Allegiances in the Rites of Citizenship: Reflections on a Handshake’

15.15 - 15.45


15.45 - 17.15

Panel 3: Toleration and Conscience

Chair: John Adenitire (University of Cambridge)


John Coffey (University of Leicester)

‘"Liberty of Conscience is a Natural Right": The Rights of Conscience in Anglo-American Protestant Thought, 1640-1790’


Tobias Kelly (University of Edinburgh)

‘Freedom of Conscience and the Limits of Toleration in Second World War Britain’


Patricia Ballenas (Queens University, Kingston, Ontario)

‘The Religious-Conscientious Exemption as a Guarantee of Freedom of Conscience and Freedom of Religion’

Day 2 - Wednesday 27 March

9.00 - 10.15

Panel 4: Islam and Toleration

Chair: Emily S. Kempson (University of Cambridge)


Adam Duker (American University in Cairo)

‘Does Islam Need a Reformation? What does Ad Fontes and Sola Scriptura look like under President Sisi and the Grand Imam?’


Mirela Krešić (University of Zagreb)

‘Different but Same: Croatian Experience of Islamic Community Inclusion into Society’

10.15 - 10.45


10.45 - 12.15

Panel 5: Local Practices of Toleration

Chair: Carys Brown (University of Cambridge)


Augur Pearce (late of University of Cardiff)

‘Mutual Toleration in the English Churches: Legal Devices to Enforce Perceived Orthodoxy in Denominational Space’


Tobias Muller (University of Cambridge)

‘Local Religious Freedom: A Spatial and Intersectional Analysis of Religious Freedom in Diverse Urban Neighbourhoods’


Fiona McGall (University of Portsmouth / University of Oxford)

‘Quarrelling with Mince Pies: Local Tolerance and Intolerance during the English Interregnum’

12.15 - 13.15


13.15 - 14.30

Panel 6: ‘Being Right’ in Search of Power

Chair: Mariëtta van der Tol (Univeristy of Cambridge)


Kaisa Iso-Herttua (University of Helsinki)

‘Struggle for Political Power and Religious Freedom’


Sarah Scholl (University of Geneva)

‘From Tolerance to Religious Freedom to Tolerance again? A Historical Reflection from the Swiss case (19th and 20th Centuries)’

14.30 - 15.00


15.00 - 16.30

Interfaith Panel

Chair: Emily S. Kempson (University of Cambridge)


  • Usama Hasan (Quilliam) 
  • Sarah Snyder (Lambeth Palace)
  • Andrew Copson (Humanists U.K.)
16.30 - 16.45

Closing and Farewell