Lecture by Alexandra Walsham (University of Cambridge, UK). 2016-2017 Roger W. Heyns Lecture. Free and open to the public.
One of the enduring myths of the origins of modern liberalism is the tradition of linking the Reformation with the rise of toleration. The notion that Protestantism helped to sow the seeds for advanced ideas of freedom of conscience and laid the foundations for practical arrangements that facilitated the acceptance of religious diversity is part of another resilient paradigm: the story of the Reformation’s role as an agent of progress and as a stepping stone towards the eighteenth-century Enlightenment. Approaching tolerance and intolerance not as polar opposites but as dialectially linked impulses, this lecture will underline the intrinsic ambivalence and internal contradictions of the experiments in ‘toleration’ that emerged in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Britain and Europe. It will argue that the real significance of the long Reformation for the history of pluralism lies less in its capacity to provide an intellectual pedigree and a body of legal and social precedents for coexistence, than in the light it sheds on the precariousness of peace and tranquillity in communities fractured by deep ideological differences. More broadly, it hopes to offer insight into the perennial and paradoxical process by which efforts to create conditions in which people of conflicting religious and political creeds can coexist often serve to lay the foundations for renewed outbreaks of conflict and violence.
About the speaker: Alexandra Walsham has been Professor of Modern History at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of Trinity College since 2010. She has published widely on the religious and cultural history of early modern Britain. Her publications include Providence in Early Modern England (Oxford University Press, 1999); Charitable Hatred: Tolerance and Intolerance in England 1500-1700 (Manchester University Press, 2006); The Reformation of the Landscape: Religion, Identity and Memory in Early Modern Britain and Ireland (Oxford University Press, 2011; joint winner of the Wolfson History Prize); and Catholic Reformation in Protestant Britain (Ashgate, 2014). Alexandra Walsham is a Fellow of the British Academy and of the Australian Academy of the Humanities. She currently holds a Leverhulme Trust Major Research Fellowship for 2015-18 and is the Principal Investigator of the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council project ’Remembering the Reformation’ (2016-19).
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