Conscience and Community

Revisiting Toleration and Religious Dissent in Early Modern England and America

By (author) Andrew R. Murphy

Paperback - £33.95

Publication date:

15 September 2003

Length of book:

360 pages


Penn State University Press

ISBN-13: 9780271023489

Religious toleration appears near the top of any short list of core liberal democratic values. Theorists from John Locke to John Rawls emphasize important interconnections between the principles of toleration, constitutional government, and the rule of law. Conscience and Community revisits the historical emergence of religious liberty in the Anglo-American tradition, looking deeper than the traditional emergence of toleration to find not a series of self-evident or logically connected expansions but instead a far more complex evolution.

Murphy argues that contemporary liberal theorists have misunderstood and misconstrued the actual historical development of toleration in theory and practice. Murphy approaches the concept through three "myths" about religious toleration: that it was opposed only by ignorant, narrow-minded persecutors; that it was achieved by skeptical Enlightenment rationalists; and that tolerationist arguments generalize easily from religion to issues such as gender, race, ethnicity, and sexuality, providing a basis for identity politics.

“At a time when the relationship of religion and politics is being bitterly contested and radically rethought, Andrew Murphy has challenged all parties in this dispute to forgo comfortable myths and confront the profoundly political and pragmatic origins and development of toleration. By comparing the early modern disputes over the limits of toleration and religious dissent in America and England in the 17th and 18th centuries, Murphy has both revitalized this legacy and provided a brilliantly lit mirror in which to view our contemporary quandaries.”

—Eldon Eisenach, Author of The Next Religious Establishment: National Identity and Political Theology in Post-Protestant America