Toleration and its Discontents, ASECS San Antonio (March 22-25, 2012)

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Patrick Mello/ ASECS 2012
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This panel seeks papers that complicate and deepen our understanding of the role of religious difference in the development of eighteenth-century literature, culture, and society. Toleration is an inherently ironic and unsatisfying concept that gives the appearance of inclusiveness, but entails nothing of acceptance or equality. Such an understanding of tolerance informs Stanley Fish’s claim that “any regime of tolerance will be founded by an intolerant gesture of exclusion” and “those who institute such a regime will do everything they can to avoid confronting the violence that inaugurates it.” In other words, toleration is typically a pragmatic doctrine that favors political expedience over freedom of conscience. This is not to lose sight of the virtue of toleration as an alternative to persecution, which is surely to be applauded, but to question Whig history and its assumption that after the events of 1688-89 freedom of conscience became a fundamental human right. Indeed, eighteenth-century novelists, dramatists, and poets constantly highlight issues associated with religious difference in their subject matter, characters, and use of form.

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