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Humanities & Social Sciences Seminar 1: Reason, Religion and Toleration

Updated: Aug 18, 2020

This week we had the privilege to be introduced to this year’s topic of Enlightenment through the readings of Locke’s Letter on Toleration. Pembroke College’s Dr Nicholas Cole truly enlightened us through the deep analysis of the texts, zooming in on Locke’s clear messages for religious liberation and the role that the magistrate had within religion and society. It seems that when analysing Locke’s contemporaneous audience, targeted at readers who were mainly undecided in their opinion of religious freedom, we see that his arguments become inclusive and emphasise the free will people have when joining a religion, such as Christianity. However, his paradoxical scenarios, formed under ‘What should not be tolerated’ and in reference to the power of jurisdiction of the magistrate when under the rule of a select monarch, creates hinterland, whereby those in governmental power, such as the magistrate might in fact, hinder religious freedom instead. Locke’s suggestion therefore was that people could live criminal lives through voluntarily joining a religion of which a different monarch ruled over, thus leaving the magistrate powerless.

I look forward to reading widely around next week’s focus of Slave Narratives and Abolition as we venture deeper into the course.

By Oscar Hill

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