Toleration: Secularism Outside Latin Christendom

What is secularism? What is toleration? How have these concepts evolved over the past several thousand years?

The Working Group on Toleration has set itself the daunting task of producing the definitive works to answer to the above questions.  Their findings will be contained in a pair of books: one comprising thousands of pages and covering thousands of years of history, the other more tightly focused on examining secularism in a variety of contemporary societies. Its list of participants includes: Alfred Stepan, Karen Barkey, Rajeev Bhargava, Akeel Bilgram, Souleymane Bachir Diagne, Ira Katznelson, Sudipta Kaviraj, Claudio Lomnitz, Nadia Urbinati, Peter van der Veer, and Carlo Invernizzi Accetti.

The project began, in many ways, with Charles Taylor’s The Secular Age (Harvard University Press), which investigates the emergence of secularism in Northern Atlantic culture, or really, secularism within Latin Christendom. While this book is itself an exhaustive look at a complex topic, it inspired the group to question how relevant its findings were to non-Christian cultures. This led to a new research goal: discovering what secularism is and is not. To answer this question, the group has embarked on a new volume, tentatively titled The Secular Age Beyond Latin Christendom, edited by Akeel Bilgrami, Alfred Stepan, and Charles Taylor.

The group will also produce a volume on toleration, tentatively titled Boundaries of Toleration.  They envision this book as a roughly one thousand page volume that covers the major thinkers and writings about toleration from the entire world starting with 2 BCE and going to the present in order to show how the discourse on toleration evolved at different moments and in different places in the world. In many cases non-Western cultures have taken the initiative although this is not incorporated into the standard thinking about the classical corpus on toleration.