CFP: No Person Shall Bee Any Wise Molested: Religious Freedom, Cultural Conflict, and the Moral Role of the State

By November 4, 2012

A conference planned for October 3 – 6, 2013, in Newport and Providence, Rhode Island, organized by the Newport Historical Society, the Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy, Salve Regina University, the George Washington Institute for Religious Freedom, the John Carter Brown Library, and Brown University to mark the 350th anniversary of the 1663 Rhode Island Charter.

What is religious toleration? What are its functions, effects, and limits in society? How has it manifested (or not) around the world in human history?

The 1663 Rhode Island Charter stipulated that no person “shall bee any wise molested, punished, disquieted, or called in question, for any differences in opinione in matters of religion.” This charter famously ignited the “lively experiment” that both reflected and shaped religious and political developments in the early modern world and has continued to influence global conversations about the role of toleration and religious freedom. The 350th anniversary of this charter provides a timely point of entry into a thoughtful consideration of a far larger set of questions about religious freedom in particular historical and present day contexts.

Far from exemplifying a simple narrative of “progress,” toleration and religious liberty have been contested, often resisted ideas that have proved surprisingly difficult to implement equitably. This is especially true when one looks outside the traditional boundaries of church-state relations to consider the lived experiences of religious dissenters, ethnic minorities, women, and enslaved and free people of color, including American Indians and indigenous populations around the world. The uneven adoption of such ideas in the early modern world, ongoing intolerance in the United States even after the ratification of the Bill of Rights, and the globalization and contestation of full religious liberty today suggest that a more comprehensive investigation of the meaning of religious liberty and toleration is an issue of particular urgency for the present.

Situated in historic Newport and Providence, Rhode Island, this conference looks at the sources, consequences, changing meanings, and lived experiences of religious freedom and intolerance. To that end, the program committee solicits panels and individual paper proposals that represent innovative research on the broad themes of religious liberty, toleration, intolerance, religious conflict, and the role of government in such contexts. Papers that cut across traditional lines of disciplines, geographies, and chronologies are especially welcome, as are papers that look at transnational and comparative contexts, local and international conditions of toleration, and the shifting boundaries between the public and the private. In addition to historians, the committee hopes to engage scholars from other disciplines, including (but not limited to) anthropology, ethics, literature, religious studies, political science, economics, theology, sociology, law, philosophy, and peace, conflict, and coexistence studies.

Possible topics include (but are not restricted to):

  • New perspectives on the 1663 Rhode Island charter—its context and consequences
  • Shifting meanings of religious freedom in specific historical contexts
  • Intersections of religious freedom or prejudice with race, ethnicity, class, gender, or sexuality
  • Limits of religious freedom and expression
  • Economic, cultural, and political consequences of religious tolerance and intolerance
  • Conflicts over public space
  • Religiously inspired moral coercion
  • Nationalism, national identity, and transnational networks
  • Historical formations of the religious, the civic, the secular, and the state
  • Experience of the religiously unaffiliated, freethinkers, and the “nones”
  • Attitudes towards religion in secular culture
  • The interplay between law, policy, and religious coexistence
  • Lived tolerance and intolerance
  • Interreligious dialog and ecumenism
  • Instruments of religious intolerance in the twenty-first century
  • Governments and indigenous peoples
  • Literary and artistic boundaries of religious freedom

Please send a 500 word proposal and curriculum vitae for each participant to by February 1, 2013. Full panel proposals should be sent under one cover and should include a panel chair and respondent. Questions should be directed to the email above.

This conference is part of The Spectacle of Toleration: Learning from the Lively Experiment, a multi-year project that aims to open up an international conversation about toleration and religious freedom. In addition to the academic conference, The Spectacle of Toleration plans to provide several years of public programming. For more information, please see:

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