Exploring Early Modern Discussions on Toleration and Recognition

The aim of the panel is to provide, through specific case studies, a wide panorama on how toleration and recognition were conceptualized or embedded in theoretical discussions in the Early Modern Period. The objective is not to delineate a conceptual history of the internal semantics of toleration and recognition but to explore the ways in which they were reflected on, practiced, or implied in moments of social, religious, and intellectual crisis or transformation. The panel takes a broad view on the possible discussions and transformative processes within which questions related to toleration and recognition became problematized.

In Havu’s paper on early 16th century Erasmian humanism, the reception and development of classical modes of discussion (such as rhetoric and conversation) are examined with respect to the levels of recognition inherent in different humanist discursive genres whereas Huhtinen’s presentation focuses on the ways in which toleration emerged as a possible solution to civic and religious strife in the English debates of the 1640s. Moving on to the Enlightenment, Olesen’s paper argues that Ludvig Holberg’s apparently paradoxical views on religious toleration are best understood in the context of the Early Modern theory of moral obligations attached to particular offices. Gerlings’s paper, for its part, discusses Immanuel Kant as a figure who attempted to bridge the universal ethos of the Republic of Letters with a locally and culturally specific Enlightenment in a moment in which specialized and institutionalized academic disciplines were being formed. The panel aims to connect individual papers to the broader historical literature on toleration and recognition (1) and to discuss its results with an eye to the dynamics of inclusion/exclusion that are implied in discursive modes (Havu), political and religious debates (Huhtinen), theories of toleration (Olesen), and in the reflected and practiced dimensions of the institutionalization of thinking (Gerlings).

(1) Zagorin: How the Idea of Religious Toleration Came to the West, 2003; Forst: Toleranz im Konflikt: Geschichte, Gehalt und Gegenwart eines umstrittenen Begriffs, 2003; Saarinen: Recognition and religion: a historical and systematic study, 2016; Ricoeur: Parcours de la reconnaissance, 2004.

Kaarlo Havu, University of Helsinki: Erasmian ideas on Conversation and Rhetoric. This paper will discuss the reception of two classical discursive modes within Erasmian humanism – conversation (sermo) and rhetoric (oratio) – with a specific focus on their implications for questions of recognition. With regards to rhetorical theory, the paper argues that while conversation implied the recognition of the other as a symmetrical participant in a discussion, rhetoric conceptualized the recipient mostly through metaphors that highlighted discursive power. With regards to practice, the paper discusses the inclusion of humanists to the Erasmian Republic of Letters by adopting them to the sphere of symmetric sermo between friends, and contrasts this to the ways in which the exclusion of certain groups (scholastics, political and religious opponents) could be forged by employing rhetorical discursive forms.

Johannes Huhtinen, European University Institute (Florence): Toleration in the English Revolution. In the 1640s England faced a decade of chronic warfare which divided communities and families and turned people against their neighbors. As terrible as the war was, and as much as it caused insecurity, confusion, and divisions, it is somewhat surprising that these critical times produced strong demands for civil and religious liberty and generated more debate around the issue of toleration than at any time in the past. My aim in this paper is to look at the pleas for toleration during the public debates of the English Revolution.

Brian Kjær Olesen, University of Copenhagen: Inclusion and Exclusion in Ludvig Holberg's Theory of Toleration. The history of religious toleration is full of paradoxes, and the philosophical thought of the Danish-Norwegian writer Ludvig Holberg, one of the pioneers of the Early Northern Enlightenment, is no exception. Whilst Holberg saw himself as an advocate of toleration, the theory of toleration on offer in Holberg’s work contains several limitations, excluding, most prominently, such groups and sects as the fanatics and the Catholics, who were themselves intolerant. Yet, the reasons for tolerating one group of religious dissenters and not another are often unclear and even paradoxical. Starting from this paradox, the paper identifies two distinct conceptions of toleration in Holberg’s works, a moral and a political, which were drawn from diverse intellectual contexts. Analysing the role of these two conceptions in the thought of Holberg, the paper aims to show (i) how they are applied to different religious groups and ideas that challenged not only established religious orthodoxies but also Holberg’s own religious and moral thought, and (ii) how the relation between these conceptions hinges on a specific understanding of civil societies as comprised of multiple offices or personae, to which distinct sets of duties are ascribed. Toleration was thus accompanied by an Enlightenment ethos of civility, set to function within the structures of the absolutist state. Hence, the paper concludes, understanding religious toleration in connection not with the subjective rights of the autonomous individual (usually seen as the Enlightenment legacy par excellence), but the moral duties of particular offices, Holberg sets out the trajectory of a novel theory of toleration, indeed a different Enlightenment, that may be of value even today.

Jonas Gerlings, University of Copenhagen: From Persona to Profession: Kant and the Professionalization of the Man of Letters in the Enlightenment. The transnationality community known as the Republic of Letters has been regarded constitutive for the cultivation of a detached, depersonalized, and disembodied style of Enlightenment thought; however, for more than a decade, historians have turned their focus towards the Northeastern corner of Europe where an opposing trend emerged: In line with the growing influence of the state, ideas of Enlightenment concerned with historical development and local difference were cultivated. This paper investigates the interconnection between these two Enlightenment cultures by revisiting the transformation of the Enlightenment figure Immanuel Kant. Kant’s scholarly persona is most often seen as epitomising the first Enlightenment culture. Contrary to this common conception, this paper argues that Kant should be seen as a figure bridging the two cultures. Kant’s attempts to bring together universal and situated ways of thinking takes place in a moment in which the very persona of a traditional man of letters was in the process of being transformed into an institutional modern academic with a claim to intellectual authority within a specialized field.