How the World Lost and Recovered Religious Toleration
Stephen Greenblatt is the author of fourteen books, including Tyrant: Shakespeare on Politics; The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve; The Swerve: How the World Became Modern (winner of the 2011 National Book Award and the 2012 Pulitzer Prize) and Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare. He was named the 2016 Holberg Prize Laureate. His honors include the MLA’s James Russell Lowell Prize, two Guggenheim Fellowships, and the Distinguished Humanist Award from the Mellon Foundation. He served as president of the MLA and has been elected to membership in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the American Philosophical Society, and the Italian Accademia dell’ Arcadia.
Late antiquity saw the single most spectacular rise of religious intolerance in world history The vast Roman empire slowly shifted from a society that welcomed virtually all gods from all parts of the world to a society that allowed the existence of one god only, shuttering or demolishing all other shrines and ruthlessly punishing all who resisted. This momentous transformation – the decision to turn away from unbounded, global pluralism and to confer legitimacy instead on a single religion—is the first half of the story. The second half is an account of how, starting in the Renaissance at a time when the machinery of religious persecution was at its height, a vision of toleration was once again tentatively conceived and articulated. Key figures here include Machiavelli, Bodin, Montaigne, Castellio, and Bruno, setting the stage for Bayle, Spinoza, and Locke. Their vision has hardly triumphed in the world, but it serves as one of the dominant principles of all liberal societies.