All posts by Eva Seto

The Secular State and Religious Tolerance

Is secularism compatible with religious tolerance?

Monday September 13, 2021 5pm PDT
Zoom webinar*

Denis Lacorne, Senior Research Fellow at CERI (Centre d’Etudes et des Researches Internationales), Sciences Po

Is secularism (laïcité) compatible with religious tolerance? In raising this question, Professor Lacorne will explore the impact of secular regimes on religious tolerance, emphasizing religious symbols and the space granted to religious symbols in the public square. In drawing examples from France, the United States and Italy, he will attempt to demonstrate that a nominally secular state is not necessarily a neutral or blind state with regard to religious beliefs. While the secular state does regulate the presence of religious symbols, this regulation can be mild—for instance, nativity scenes allowed under certain conditions—or aggressive and even punitive when it prohibits ostentatious religious clothings, such as the hijab, the niqab or the burquini in the public square. The wall of separation between church and state is rarely “high and impregnable” and the institutional tolerance of religious symbols varies widely according to countries and regimes of secularism.

Denis Lacorne has written extensively on religion in the United States and the politics of toleration in general. He turns to history to trace the development of modern conceptions of toleration and to find precedents for new ways we can understand and apply it. In his recent book The Limits of Tolerance (2019), translated from Les frontières de la tolérance (2016), Lacorne distinguishes the “modern” definition of tolerance from predecessors and alternatives. He associates this modern account with European thinkers of the seventeenth and eighteenth century, including Locke and Voltaire, who rendered tolerance a necessary condition to uphold a right to religious belief, practice and conscience. Drawing from older practices of tolerance, he uses history to mark the uniqueness of the “multicultural” regimes of toleration that have become common for nations that have seen considerable influxes of immigration from minority religions since the last decades of the twentieth century.


Sponsored by Endowed Fund for the Study of Religious Tolerance. Co-sponsored with the Berkeley Center for the Study of Religion.

Toleration and Its Discontents

April 20, 2021 11am PDT

Michael Walzer photo

Michael Walzer, Professor Emeritus, Social Sciences @Institute for Advanced Study (IAS)

Professor Michael Walzer will revisit the old question about tolerating the intolerant. “We have to do that, but this isn’t a simple toleration; we have a right to ask for concessions from them–some minimal conformity, especially with regard to gender and equality.” Exactly what that means, and how it might be justified, will be the subject of his lecture.

Michael Walzer is one of America’s foremost political thinkers, Michael Walzer has written about a wide variety of topics in political theory and moral philosophy, including political obligation, just and unjust war, nationalism and ethnicity, economic justice, and the welfare state. He has played a critical role in the revival of a practical, issue-focused ethics and in the development of a pluralist approach to political and moral life. Walzer’s books include Just and Unjust Wars (1977), Spheres of Justice (1983), On Toleration (1997), Arguing About War (2004), and The Paradox of Liberation (2015); he served as co-editor of the political journal Dissent for more than three decades, retiring in 2014. Currently, he is working on issues having to do with international justice and the connection of religion and politics, and also on a collaborative project focused on the history of Jewish political thought.

Established in 2014, the Tolerance Lectures are generously sponsored by the Endowed Fund for the Study of Religious Tolerance. Co-sponsored by the Center for Jewish Studies and the Center for Democracy, Toleration and Religion