Beyond Toleration: The Religious Origins of American Pluralism.

Author:Bryant, Lynn Ross
Position:Book review
 
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Beyond Toleration: The Religious On)ins of American Pluralism. By Chris Beneke. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. 305pp. $35.00.

Professor Beneke's subject is the development of pluralism in eighteenth-century America, with the acceptance of toleration as a legitimate understanding of the place of (most) religions in America be-ginning in the 1720s and then "beyond toleration" to "religious liberty" by the 1790s. The force of the book is to demonstrate through an extensive compilation and analysis of primary and secondary materials the rapid changes in attitudes toward religions that occurred during this period and to suggest that there was more general agreement on a (relatively) pluralistic view of America among a more diverse segment of the population than has been previously noted.

Certainly at the beginning of the period and even, to a lesser extent, at the end, this pluralism did not include all religions nor was the principle accepted buy all citizens. Beneke compares the workings of religions liberty during this period to civil fights in our time. Although the accepted values in our culture generally do not include racism, that does not mean that there are not racists or that there is no discrimination based on race. He would say the same about religious liberty at the end of the eighteenth century. He also likens the two areas in terms of the principles behind each: with the decision of Brown v. Board of Education ... equal recognition was again--as it had been for late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century commentators on religious differences--at the heart of the matter (p. 223).

The argument for toleration, generally accepted throughout the colonies by the 1730s, was that everyone had the right of private judgment or liberty of conscience. But by the 1760s and '70s, toleration was seen to be insufficient. No one was a...

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