There is a myth—easily shattered—that Western societies since the Enlightenment have been dedicated to the ideal of protecting the differences between individuals and groups, and another—too readily accepted—that before the rise of secularism in the modern period, intolerance and persecution held sway throughout Europe. In Beyond the Persecuting Society John Christian Laursen, Cary J. Nederman, and nine other scholars dismantle this second generalization.
If intolerance and religious persecution have been at the root of some of the greatest suffering in human history, it is nevertheless the case that toleration was practiced and theorized in medieval and early modern Europe on a scale few have realized: Christians and Jews, the English, French, Germans, Dutch, Swiss, Italians, and Spanish had their proponents of and experiments with tolerance well before John Locke penned his famous Letter Concerning Toleration. Moving from Abelard to Aphra Behn, from the apology for the gentiles of the fourteenth-century Talmudic scholar, Menahem ben Solomon Ha-MeIiri, to the rejection of intolerance in the "New Israel" of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Beyond the Persecuting Society offers a detailed and decisive correction to a vision of the past as any less complex in its embrace and abhorrence of diversity than the present.
"Beyond the Persecuting Society confronts the myth that there was no general conception or practice of religious toleration before the Enlightenment. . . . It is the great strength of this collection that the diversity and richness of the often tentative allowance for confessional pluralism can be documented at times when unity of faith was seen as no less necessary than unity of obedience."—Albion