Divided Faith by Benjamin J. Kaplan

ISBN: 9780674034730

Published: December 6th 9

Paperback

432 pages


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Divided  by  Faith by Benjamin J. Kaplan

Divided by Faith by Benjamin J. Kaplan
December 6th 9 | Paperback | PDF, EPUB, FB2, DjVu, talking book, mp3, ZIP | 432 pages | ISBN: 9780674034730 | 6.78 Mb

Benjamin Kaplan’s Divided by Faith challenges the traditional view that toleration took hold in early modern Europe as a direct result of the percolation and entrenchment of Enlightenment ideals that were propagated by such philosophes as Castellio, Locke, and Voltaire.

He identifies this outlook as a Whig historiographical trend that tends to credit the elite for waging an unabated war of reason against the forces of darkness. Granted that viewing our modern history as a progressive one that has moved in the direction of tolerance has its benefits in that it “provides a standard against which we judge our societies – severely sometimes – and lends moral weight to calls for greater tolerance,” but it can also preclude an accurate understanding of the early modern Europe rift by confessionalism.

Kaplan’s objective is to correct our misperceptions about early modern Europe as a site of murder and pillage where religious warfare resulted in an onslaught against individuals and communities for their beliefs. With this goal in mind, he refuses to subscribe to a single definition of tolerance as freedom of conscience for individuals.

Toleration, rather than tolerance, he argue, existed among the most confessionally structured societies in which communities found ways to accommodate their religious differences with their neighbors for pragmatic reasons.Divided by Faith consists of four chapters that cover a wide geographical space, namely Western Europe and a period that spans the Reformation and the French Revolution. Part I, “obstacles,” examines the reasons why it was so difficult for people divided along confessional lines to live together in early modern Europe. He outlines three reasons for this: the division of societies based on confession which called for clear doctrinal distinctions among different religions, the imposition of conformity with religious creed and the body politic, and the merging of the sacral with the civic life that allowed the church enough latitude to intervene in the social and political arena.

Thus religion came to be viewed as a chain that held society together in a world known as corpus Christianum.Having set up the background for intolerant societies in early modern Europe, Kaplan goes on to the second part where he describes in detail the ways people of different faiths accommodated their differences. One of these ways of accommodation was known as auslauf, the practice of permitting a religious minority to attend services outside the boundaries of the community.

Through this channel, the community managed to preserve on the surface the integrity of corpus Christianum while tolerating the religious practices of the minority other. Another way in which religious practice was tolerated became possible through the institution of Shuilkerken (the conversion of a private space into a place of worship for a community). There were also other ways such as Simulaneum in which toleration was practiced more freely. In Netherlands, for instance, there were smaller communities in which confessional groups shared a public place of worship.It is in this section that Kaplan presents his main thesis that hinges on a different definition of toleration than that familiar to our modern sensibilities.

These accommodations did not mean to end religious conflicts but rather they were instituted as a necessity to keep peace within a realm. As much as they might be far from our understanding of tolerance, these methods, nevertheless, worked and provided a space where peaceful coexistence was possible.

What informed this accommodation practices, Kaplan argues was the hope to fix the rifts that appeared in Christendom after the Reformation.The third section examines the daily lives and interactions of people from different faiths as practitioners of toleration. It specifically demonstrates the porous nature of confessional allegiances through cases of intermarriage and conversion from one faith to another. Interestingly, what the church feared most was not the threat the Jews and Muslims posed to Christendom as they clearly constituted the “other.” What inspired fear to corpus Christianum, though, was the threat from the rival Christian churches.The last section addresses the questions raised in the introduction.

Was Enlightenment instrumental in leading to more toleration among religious communities? Kaplan’s answer is a strong no. According to him, religious strife continued into the 18th century and the ideals of the Enlightenment were only adopted by an elite stratum of the society in the latter decades of eighteenth century.

Kaplan concedes that there was a marked shift in the understanding of religious toleration but this did not stem exclusively from the elite ruminations of philosophes but from a host of broader social changes on the ground.Kaplan’s book goes against the grain by challenging the prevailing views of how toleration, as discourse and practice became a reality.

His treatment of the concept of religious toleration in the context of early modern Europe is certainly conducive to a better understanding of our own struggle with religious antagonism in an increasingly diversified world. He presents his arguments in a very vivid language in an organized manner that help the reader digest the massive amount of information he engages in his discussion of the history of religious toleration. The reader is presented with arguments that might not sound palatable but they certainly strike him/her as perfectly legitimate explanations. Toleration, whether driven by pragmatic considerations or a genuine understanding of individual conscience helped communities maintain a precarious coexistence through critical times.



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