As I mentioned in my introduction, discussions that mix history, politics, and history can lead to tense conversations and mutual mistrust. We often come to these conversations with our minds made up and are not open to hearing what others have to say. I hope that these Spectacle of Toleration blog posts have opened your eyes and helped you to understand some of these difficult topics from a historical point of view.
Thanks to the 1663 Rhode Island Charter, whose anniversary the Spectacle project is celebrating this year, colonial people in Rhode Island experienced a level of religious tolerance that was unimaginable in many other places in the world. In Newport, Quakers and Jews worshipped in buildings blocks from Congregationalists and Baptists, and all worked together to build Newport’s bustling port economy. And yet this religious toleration had its limits. Enslaved Africans came over with their own religious conceptions, but were unable to openly practice their faiths due to the institution of slavery. Native peoples, though respected by Roger Williams, were often in conflict with the European settlers over religion and other cultural differences
Thus, even though this toleration was limited, it is still something to be celebrated. Compared to other colonies in North America, and places around the world, Rhode Island was a haven for religious dissenters and a religiously diverse and thriving colony.
If you are looking for more reading material on this subject, check out Chris Beneke and Christopher S. Grenda’s The First Prejudice: Religious Tolerance and Intolerance in Early America. This edited volume includes essays on a number of different topics including Native Americans, Quakers, African Americans, Catholics, and Jews, as well as discussions of how religious crimes were prosecuted and how religious toleration changed after the American Revolution. Many of my blog posts this summer were informed by readings from this text.
And finally, to keep exploring these ideas, continue to follow the Spectacle of Toleration project! The Newport Historical Society and others are sponsoring a number of events throughout the rest of 2013. In fact, the Spectacle of Toleration conference will be held this weekend from October 3-6 in Newport and Providence, RI. If you are in the area, consider attending to learn about some of these topics in greater depth!