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The Spectacle of Toleration

It is much in their hearts (if they may be permitted), to hold forth a lively experiment, that a most flourishing civill state may stand and best bee maintained, and that among our English subjects, with a full libertie in religious concernements…

– King Charles II Charter, 1663

The Newport Historical Society is the lead organization in an innovative and important collaborative project in 2013-14.  In the Spectacle of Toleration we will explore questions about the role of tolerance and religious liberty in society. We expect to both generate and assemble scholarship on these topics, and offer that scholarship in meaningful and understandable ways to the public. This work will be done in the context of a celebration of the 350th year of Rhode Island’s King Charles II Charter, which was the basis of  the “lively experiment” in religious liberty.

I am happy to find, my Countrymen the Spanish Nation begin to divest themselves from Bigotry, Ignorance, & Indolence, and adopt in their room Learning, Liberty & Liberality of Sentiments on Religious Matters.  That System, with proper encouragements to Arts & Sciences, make no doubt, will in time …class them with all other Civilized and Enlightened Nations & Enrich that impoverished Nation…
-Jacob Rodrigues Rivera, 1783

Does religious tolerance lead to a society that is more productive, creative, and energetic; more intellectually, culturally, and economically rich? And what are the limits and stresses for tolerance? What difference did the “lively experiment” make, and what can the present draw from this experience? These and many other related questions are the inspiration for The Spectacle of Toleration.

This project will sponsor an academic conference in October 2013 and at least 18 months of public programming. The call for papers for the conference, and a public programming agenda, are included here. Programs will include a web presence, traditional lectures and seminars, outreach to classroom teachers, and performing arts events. This project will happen in conjunction with the State of Rhode Island’s 1663 Colonial Charter Commission.

The expected audience for this effort is scholarly and public, local and national, historians and those from other disciplines. Programs will appeal to family audiences, school groups, tourists and residents of Rhode Island. A seminar in Washington, DC is tentatively planned for the spring of 2014, in an effort to bring attention to the current relevance of these issues in politics and national policy. Partners for the Spectacle project, and its steering committee, are listed below.

Partners: Rhode Island Historical Society|John Carter Brown Library, Brown University | Pell Center at Salve Regina University| George Washington Institute for Religious Freedom

Steering Committee: Christopher J. Beneke, Bentley University; Daniel Cowdin, Salve Regina University; Linford D. Fisher, Brown University; James M. Ludes, Pell Center, Salve Regina University; Timothy B. Neary, Salve Regina University; Margot Nishimura, John Carter Brown Library, Brown University; Ruth Taylor, Newport Historical Society; Ken Yellis, Project Coordinator

See Spectacle of Toleration video footage here.