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


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), and the Centre for Public Law.


Administrative assistance: