Toleration, religion and the state




Shellard, John

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In recent years concerns about social cohesion and religious toleration have become increasingly problematic and fraught in Australia. Religious vilification laws are one way that governments have sought to address these issues, with mixed results. In the context of these concerns, this thesis focuses on the question of state toleration of religion as distinct from interpersonal tolerance (and argues for the importance of this distinction) and to analyse the shape and rationale of such a policy. It argues that state toleration can be understood as the product of a concept of religion in relation to the development of the modern sovereign state. The nature and origin of this dynamic is illustrated well by John Locke's arguments for religious toleration at the end of the 17th Century. Locke and his French contemporary, Pierre Bayle, both argued for a concept of toleration that understood religion as individual, conscientious belief and limits the applicability of the concept of toleration to contemporary conflicts. This is illustrated clearly in changes to the way that blasphemy and religious offence were subsequently treated in the West. Religions that do not fit within the inherited definition have prompted alternative approaches. The consequences of this are illustrated by the discourse around religious identity and vilification. The Rushdie Affair in Britain and anti-vilification legislation in Australia puts forward an alternative definition of religion as an ascriptive identity. However, such a definition of religion is at odds with the established concept of state toleration. The conflict between rival concepts of religious toleration adds to the problem. The implication of this is that the very question of what is religion' is a political question, one that should be negotiated in each new context. The conclusion looks at how vilification laws fail to adequately address this and looks at the way that the concepts of allegiance and civility offer an alternative. Keywords: Australia, Axel Honneth, blasphemy, belief, Charles Taylor, conscience, discrimination, identity, John Locke, J. S. Mill, Pierre Bayle, philosophy, recognition, religion, state, tolerance, toleration, vilification.






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