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Religious Tolerance

There are many ways to approach writing a research paper on religious tolerance. Paper Masters feels that the best way to go about it is to approach it from a philosophical standpoint. Since religion is a choice of each individual in society, reflection on the level of tolerance for religious points of view is a philosophical query.

Topics to Cover in Your Religious Tolerance Research Paper

Religious ToleranceBegin your project by noting that religious tolerance can be seen in a variety of ways, depending on the historical or geographical construct being applied. Generally speaking, religious tolerance is an individualized sense of acceptance of alternate beliefs, even if one does not practice them oneself. In contrast, religious toleration is more of a legal or social attitude, one that prohibits the discrimination against any one specific faith simply because of their beliefs. You may then want to focus on the fact that in America, we practice religious toleration as a nation; no one religious group can be singled out or targeted for persecution simply because of the unpopularity of their beliefs. Our nation does not, however, practice tolerance. There are still countless Americans that do not accept the practice of countless faiths. According to The Religious Tolerance organization, faiths in America that have been known to experience intolerance include:

  • Islam
  • Fundamental Mormonism
  • Atheism
  • Jehovah's Witnesses
  • Wicca

Tolerance and toleration are two different concepts, and it is important to see the difference.

The issue of whether or not tolerance – or at least tolerance as it is commonly understood in liberal democracies – is possible in a deeply religious society has vexed intellectuals and political philosophers for millennia so don't try to solve the issue in your paper, merely examine it. At first glance, it would certainly seem as though twenty-first century western societies have repudiated any argument or arguments suggesting religion and tolerance can coexist peacefully in a society. For instance, the standard-bearer for all democracies, America, explicitly separates the Church and State in its Constitution. Other western nations do likewise and the general uniformity of sentiment does raise the question of whether or not this belief has always been a key staple of western thought or is instead the product of a more recent age. With this question in mind, it is worthwhile to look to ancient Greece, specifically Aristotle, to see to what extent the ancients accepted the contemporary premise that tolerance and staunch religious faith are incompatible. Thus, your paper may want to examine Aristotle’s views on the matter but do so with a unique twist: rather than assuming the dispassionate narrative of the third-person, the paper can be written, so far as possible, in Aristotle’s “voice”. In this way it is hoped that the reader can gain a further appreciation for the thought processes animating one of the most brilliant minds in all western history.

Religious Tolerance and Society

Where one lives can also impact the nature of religious tolerance in one’s society. In religiously-governed nations, such as Saudi Arabia, for example, religious tolerance is difficult to come by; as an Islamic nation, this is the belief system that governs all aspect of citizens’ lives. Historically, this has also been seen: consider Henry VIII and his break with the Catholic Church, creating the Church of England with himself as the figurehead. Catholics were widely persecuted during his reign, demonstrating a clear lack of religious toleration or tolerance; conversely, Protestants were widely persecuted during the reign of his daughter, Mary I, further demonstrating a lack of religious toleration or tolerance. As our global society evolves and individuals are forced to accept diversity all around them, it is increasingly likely that religious tolerance will become the exception as opposed to the rule, and individuals of varying faiths, or of no faith at all, will be free to practice as they wish.

What Does Aristotle Have to Say Concerning Religious Tolerance

A deep religious fervor and civic tolerance can coexist so long as the proper virtues that distinguish men from animals or “barbarians” are taught. The intrinsic beauty of a deeply religious state ruled by an appropriate kingship or by an appropriate aristocracy (a state, incidentally, where religion is kept in its proper place and not uneasily commingled with the political functioning of the polity) is that virtue and wisdom give happiness in a way that mere material possessions cannot. God, we may note, is happy and blessed but he is so on account of no external goods but on account of his own virtue. For the sake of argument, let us conclude that the Best Life is that one in which a Life of Virtue is comfortably conjoined with sufficient means for taking part in virtuous actions (Aristotle, Politics, VII. I. 5-II, 2). Here we have the austere life of the polity happily off-set by the inner riches that come with proper moral instruction. Ultimately, insofar as religion leads to an incorruptible spirit and to a strong moral ethic that includes the extension of magnanimity towards others, a strong religious ethic within society can only assist in mitigating intolerance (at least among non-barbarians and non-slaves). For this reason, more so than any other, tolerance is possible within a deeply religious society.

Ending Your Argument On Religious Tolerance

In conclusion, your paper will examine whether or not tolerance is possible in a society that is deeply religious. You should argue that it is possible – but only if certain pre-conditions are met. To begin with, religion cannot help but strengthen a dictator’s grip upon power inasmuch as he or she will use the ostentatious display of religion to draw a link between their rule and divine providence, and inasmuch as religion serves as a sort of “internalized” censure that compels obeisance from subjects. Thus, for so long as a tyrant aligns him or herself to the predominant religion of the land, the prospects of the faithful taking arms against him or her is greatly reduced. Needless to say, a tyrant can thus use religion to assault “undesirable” elements in society can use religion as justification for behaving in intolerant and despicable ways against members of the polity.

Happily though, a strong religious ethic within the polity does not have to lead ineluctably to intolerance. Religion can teach prudence and high moral virtues and these virtues can instruct a citizen to behave judiciously and charitably with others within the community. To facilitate this happy state of affairs, it is best that the separation between Church and State be explicit – we suggest that the appointment of religious officials be done by politicians – so that the trappings of a theocracy do not result. In the final analysis, tolerance is indeed possible in a deeply religious society.

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