Cross menorah Oxford 20051225

The cross of the war memorial and a menorah for Hanukkah coexist in Oxford.

Minerva als Symbol der Toleranz

Minerva as a symbol of enlightened wisdom protects the believers of all religions (Daniel Chodowiecki, 1791)

Religious toleration is the condition of accepting or permitting others' religious beliefs and practices which disagree with one's own.

In a country with a state religion, toleration means that the government permits religious practices of other sects besides the state religion, and does not persecute believers in other faiths. It is a partial status, and might still be accompanied by forms of religious discrimination. Religious toleration as a Government policy merely means the absence of religious persecution; unlike religious liberty it does not mean that religions are equal before the law. Toleration is a privilege granted by Government (which it may do by law or charter), not a right against it; governments have often tolerated some religions and not others.

Religious toleration "as a government-sanctioned practice — the sense on which most discussion of the phenomenon relies — is not attested before the sixteenth century", which makes it rather difficult to apply the concept to topics like Persecution of religion in ancient Rome.[1]

Historically, toleration has been a contentious issue within many religions as well as between one religion and another. At issue is not merely whether other faiths should be permitted, but also whether a ruler who is a believer may be tolerant, or permit his subordinates to be.

In the Middle Ages, toleration of Judaism was a contentious issue throughout Christendom. Today, there are concerns about toleration of Christianity in Islamic states (see also dhimmi and Islam and other religions).

Proselytism can be a contentious issue; it can be regarded as an offence against the validity of others' religions, or as an expression of one's own faith.

The development of religious toleration

The concept of toleration has evolved in modern Europe, and changed during its development. For a contemporary reader there is a danger of confusing the modern connotation of words like "toleration", "religious freedom " and "liberty of conscience" with the historic meanings of these word.[2] The use of these terms in John Stuart Mill's On Liberty or by 20th century philosophers like John Rawls and Ronald Dworkin is different from the concept of religious toleration in the 17th century.[2]

To complicate matters further, the Latin tolerantia was a "highly-developed political and judicial concept in mediaeval scholastic theology and canon law."[3] Tolerantia was used to "denote the self-restraint of a civil power in the face of" outsiders, like infidels, Muslims or Jews, but also in the face of social groups like prostitutes and lepers.[3]

For individuals, religious toleration generally means an attitude of acceptance towards other people's religions. It does not mean that one views other religions as equally true; merely that others have the right to hold and practice their beliefs. This element of objection is important. People, who take these matters seriously, often experience distress when they are confronted with religious beliefs that they regard as idolatrous, superstitious, heretical or schismatic.

Contexts of religious tolerance

At least five contexts of religious tolerance can be distinguished. Religious tolerance as a state sanctioned practice can more precisely termed civil tolerance. Civil tolerance is concerned with "the policy of the state towards religious dissent".[4] In contrast to this, ecclesiastical tolerance is concerned with the degree of diversity tolerated within a particular church.[5] Without this distinction, the Christian debate on persecution and toleration in England could not be adequately understood. Furthermore, there is also a social and a polemical context of religious tolerance. The grand theme of divine tolerance is the emphasis on "the patience and longsuffering of God" as it is frequently portrayed in the Christian Bible; This image of God has been invoked by early Christian advocates of toleration.

Hinduism has earned a reputation of being highly tolerant of other religions. Rigveda says Ekam Sath Viprah Bahudha Vadanti which translates to "The truth is One, but sages call it by different Names"[6]. This tradition is evident from the fact that India chose to be a secular country even though it was created after partitioning on religious lines.

The polemical context

Sam Harris has challenged the tolerance of religion. In The End of Faith, Sam Harris asserts that we should be unwilling, as individuals, to tolerate unjustified beliefs about morality, spirituality, politics, and the origin of humanity.


See also


  1. H.A.Drake, Lambs into Lions: explaining early Christian intolerance, Past and Present 153 (1996), p.8, Oxford Journals
  2. 2.0 2.1 Walsham 2006: 233.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Walsham 2006: 234.
  4. Coffey 2000: 11
  5. Coffey 2000: 12
  6. [1] "Hinduism - a general introduction"
  7. "Valerius Maximianus Galerius", Karl Hoeber, Catholic Encyclopedia 1909 Ed, retrieved 1 June 2007.[2]
  8. "Constantine I", Encyclopedia Britannica 1911 Ed. retrieved 1 June 2007. [3]
  9. "Johann Brenz" Encyclopedia Britannica 1911 Ed. retrieved 1 June 2007.[4]
  10. "Toleration—Exercitium Religionis Privatum", Walter Grossman, Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 40, No. 1 (Jan - Mar., 1979), pp. 129-134, retrieved 1 June 2007.[5]
  11. "The Confederation of Warsaw of 28 January 1573, UNESCO, retrieved 1 June 2007. [6]
  12. "Edict of Nantes", Encyclopedia Britannica 15th Edition, retrieved 1 June 2007. [7]
  13. "Rudolph II", Encyclopedia Britannica 15 Edition, retrieved 1 June 2007.[8]
  14. Hasia R. Diner, The Jews of the United States, 1654 to 2000, 2004, University of California Press, ISBN 0520248481, pp. 13-15
  15. "The Universal Declaration of Human Rights", United Nations 1948, retrieved 1 June 2007.[9]
  16. "Dignitatis Humanae", Decree on Religious Freedom, 1965, retrieved 1 June 2007.[10]
  18. "Russia", Encyclopedia Britannica 15th edition, retrieved 1 June 2007.[12]

Referred literature

  • Coffey, John (2000). Persecution and Toleration in Protestant England, 1558-1689. Longman Publishing Group. ISBN 0-582-30465-2. 
  • Walsham, Alexandra (September 2006). Charitable Hatred: Tolerance and Intolerance in England, 1500-1700. Manchester University Press. ISBN 0719052394. 

Further reading

  • Barzilai, Gad (2007). Law and Religion. Ashgate. ISBN 978-0-7546-2494-3. 
  • Beneke, Chris (September 2006). Beyond Toleration: The Religious Origins of American Pluralism. Oxford University Press, USA. ISBN 0-19-530555-8. 
  • Curry, Thomas J. (1989-12-19). Church and State in America to the Passage of the First Amendment. Oxford University Press; Reprint edition (December 19, 1989). ISBN 0-19-505181-5. 
  • Grell, Ole Peter, and Roy Porter, ed (2000). Toleration in Enlightenment Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0521651967. 
  • Hamilton, Marci A. (2005-06-17). God vs. the Gavel: Religion and the Rule of Law. Edward R. Becker (Foreword. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-85304-4. 
  • Hanson, Charles P. (1998). Necessary Virtue: The Pragmatic Origins of Religious Liberty in New England. University Press of Virginia. ISBN 0813917948. 
  • Kaplan, Benjamin J. (2007). Divided by Faith: Religious Conflict and the Practice of Toleration in Early Modern Europe. Belknap Press. ISBN 0674024303. 
  • Laursen, John Christian and Nederman, Cary, ed (December 1997). Beyond the Persecuting Society: Religious Toleration Before the Enlightenment. University of Pennsylvania Press (December 1997). ISBN 0-8122-3331-X. 
  • Murphy, Andrew R. (July 2001). Conscience and Community: Revisiting Toleration and Religious Dissent in Early Modern England and America. Pennsylvania State University Press. ISBN 0-271-02105-5. 
  • Zagorin, Perez (2003). How the Idea of Religious Toleration Came to the West. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-12142-7. 

External links

ia:Tolerantia religioseno:Religiøs toleransesimple:Religious toleration

sk:Náboženská tolerancia te:మత సామరస్యం

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