Toleration, Scepticism and Religion

Stream: Panel 6 - Comparative Politics: The International Political Economy of Islamophobia
Date: Monday, 26 September 2016
Time: 11.30 am – 1.00 pm


As the Charlie Hebdo, Copenhagen Cafe and Galvern, Texas, attacks in 2015 show, some individuals within liberal democracies are unable to tolerate words or images that are abhorrent to their religious faith. Each of these attacks had some connection to Muhammad Cartoons - an issue which first arose with the publication of twelve cartoons by the Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, in 2005. Given that free speech is a fundamental value within liberal democracy, and given that such freedom in matters of religion is a fundamental Enlightenment commitment, liberal democracies need to find some way to uphold such freedom, even in matters of blasphemy, and yet avert the violence to which, it seems, this freedom is likely to give rise. The only way to ensure this, it is argued, is to convince those prone to religious violence in such circumstances to affirm the liberal value of toleration. In other words, on what basis can we convince those of devout religious faith to tolerate that to which their faith is at odds, and affirm this liberal value, rather than engage in the violent retribution which, they might believe, their faith demands? The answer that this paper seeks to advance is a specific sort of scepticism that allows toleration but (somewhat paradoxically) also enables individuals to retain their faith fully intact. The article draws on seventeenth century toleration debates to show how this is possible. This paper seeks to build on a recent publication of mine in the American Journal of Political Science.


John Tate (Presenter), University of Newcastle
John Tate is a Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at the University of Newcastle, Australia. His research interest is in the area of political theory and history of political thought. He has a particular interest in issues of liberalism, free speech and toleration.