Limina: A Journal of Historical and Cultural Studies

Article: Bird

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Karen M. Bird
Griffith University

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The Concession of Toleration, Muslims and the British Enlightenment


The modern world continues to grapple with the meaning and practice of toleration. Predominant Western notions of toleration assume a moral foundation that infers acceptance of others’ rights, beliefs and practices. This paper considers how ideas of toleration may have entered early Enlightenment travel, diplomatic and trade reports about the ‘Turbanned Nation’ of Islam, and influenced John Locke's (1632-1704) writings ‘on toleration’. Locke wrote his portrayal of Ottoman religious toleration during a time of shifting geo-politics in the Mediterranean and increasing concern about religious diversity in Britain and Europe. The Ottomans ruled an extremely heterogeneous population that was multi-ethnic, multi-linguistic, multi-religious and multi-tribal [1]. The ‘transnational and trans-imperial circulation of knowledge’ (specifically British knowledge) of the Ottoman Empire fed into British and European Enlightenment conceptions of toleration [2]. The British and wider European awakening to the Ottoman concession of toleration became a distinctive feature of the Enlightenment and deserves continued intellectual attention.

Keywords: John Locke, religion, Enlightenment, toleration, Islam, governance, transnational knowledge

[1]  J.L Esposito (ed.), The Oxford History of Islam, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1999, p. 385.
[2] S. Sebastiani, The Scottish Enlightenment: Race, Gender and the Limits of Progress, Basingstoke, Palgrave McMillan, 2013, p. 5.

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