- Pub. Date: October 2006
- Publisher:Oxford University Press
At its founding, the United States was one of the most religiously diverse places in the world. Baptists, Methodists, Catholics, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Quakers, Dutch Reformed, German Reformed, Lutherans, Huguenots, Dunkers, Jews, Moravians, and Mennonites populated the nations towns and villages. Dozens of new denominations would emerge over the succeeding years. What allowed people of so many different faiths to forge a nation together?
In this richly told story of ideas, Chris Beneke demonstrates how the United States managed to overcome the religious violence and bigotry that characterized much of early modern Europe and America. The key, Beneke argues, did not lie solely in the protection of religious freedom. Instead, he reveals how American culture was transformed to accommodate the religious differences within it. The expansion of individual rights, the mixing of believers and churches in the same institutions, and the introduction of more civility into public life all played an instrumental role in creating the religious pluralism for which the United States has become renowned. These changes also established important precedents for future civil rights movements in which dignity, as much as equality, would be at stake.
Beyond Toleration is the first book to offer a systematic explanation of how early Americans learned to live with differences in matters of the highest importance to them and how they found a way to articulate these differences civilly. Today when religious conflicts once again pose a grave danger to democratic experiments across the globe, Beneke's book serves as a timely reminder of how one country moved past toleration and towards religious pluralism.
"This book makes a significant contribution to our understanding of American pluralism and religious liberty. Both general readers and specialists will profit from this insightful, readable volume."Church History
"I know of no book that traces the historical transition from toleration to religious liberty in America as well as this one. This highly readable and well-documented text is sure to enjoy a wide readership." Derek H. Davis, author of Religion and the Continental Congress, 1774-1789: Contributions to Original Intent
"Written in a sparkling style, this book exhibits a comprehensiveness both in the text and in the notes - -that wins immediate confidence. Moreover, the theme of the development of religious liberty in America is one whose significance can hardly be exaggerated. Readers will be richly informed by this wise and perceptive book." Edwin S. Gaustad, author of Roger Williams and Benjamin Franklin
"In this well-written book, Chris Beneke argues that American colonials, even before the American revolution, had moved beyond the legal toleration of religious dissenters to create a pluralist culture that made the category of religious dissenter irrelevant. Several centuries later Americans still wrestle with the meaning of cultural pluralism, but Beneke correctly insists that men and women of ardent faith first made the concept central to the concept of liberty." R. Laurence Moore, author of Touchdown Jesus: The Mixing of Sacred and Secular in American History
"Beneke sees early American religious toleration as a necessary forerunner to present-day attempts not only to tolerate but to celebrate difference ... [A] wide-ranging, ambitious survey... well written and engaging." American Historical Review
"Beneke persuasively demonstrates that the mere pronouncement of toleration was far removed from the state of true tolerance that would later emerge." The New England Quarterly
"[A] shrewdly observing book." Journal of Modern History
"Refreshing...a multifaceted portrait fo the change in public norms from grudgin toleration of 'error' to a robust articulation of the rights of religious minorities to live out their deepest commitments without fear of harassment or persecution." Journal of ReligionMore Reviews and Recommendations
Chris Beneke is Assistant Professor of History at Bentley College in Waltham, MA. He received his Bachelors degree from Cornell University and his PhD from Northwestern University.