April 2, 2001
By Eric Rangus firstname.lastname@example.org
Religious tolerance, a staple of much of the worlds discussion on human rights, is a difficult and complex issue, Harvard professor David Little admitted during his lecture Rethinking Religious Tolerance, Monday, March 26, in the Jones Room of Woodruff Library.
So Little, Dermot Professor of the Practice of Religion, Ethnicity and
International Conflict at Harvard Divinity School, devoted much of his
55-minute lecture to clarifying what tolerance means and whether
it is possible to enforce an idea that, by its nature, is so difficult
David Chidester, a professor at the Centre for the Study of Religion
at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, took the podium after Little
and offered a brief, good-natured response.
Rethinking Religious Tolerance kicked off a weeklong symposium
titled Holy Wars: Conflict and Tolerance in the Religious Imagination.
Shortly after the speakers left the Jones Room, they journeyed to the
Emory Hotel and Conference Center for the first of three nightly seminars
on religion, ethnicity and human rights.
We are blessed to have these two distinguished scholars here,
said University Secretary Gary Hauk in his introduction. Between the two,
Hauk said, they have written more than 100 articles and books, and both
have also served as mediators during religious conflict.
Little and Chidester remained on campus through Saturday and engaged
members of the Emory community in several panel sessions, lectures and
more informal gatherings.
The symposium was co-sponsored by the Department of Religion, the Humanities
Council, the Graduate Division of Religion and the provosts office.
Religion chair Laurie Patton called the event a culmination of a
years work on conflict and religion.
Opening his discussion, Little said one of the most thorny matters about
rethinking tolerance is that the word tolerance is difficult
to define andin some casesnot defined at all. For instance,
Little noted, in some official international human rights documents, the
words tolerance and discrimination are used interchangeably.
In other places they are distinct terms.
Little came up with two definitions of tolerance. The first, he said,
is a response to a set of beliefs that are originally thought to
be objectionable, with disapproval but without using force or coercion
[to change them].
It is natural, said Little, who comfortably stepped out from
behind the podium several times during his lecture to speak to the full
Jones Room crowd more personally, for us to punish people we do
not agree with. To repress that impulse is tolerant.
Littles second definition of tolerance was similar to the first,
but, for reasons he would explain, much tougher to deal with. In the second
definition, tolerance not only does not use coercion or force against
an opponent, but a tolerant person respects the others viewpoint.
Little used the term sublimated disapproval.
As far as enforcing these ideas of tolerance, Little said the first definition
is much more enforceable since it deals specifically with the use of violence.
Legislating tolerance using the second definition would be much more difficult,
he said, since it relies on people working things out among themselves
through debate or discussion. You cannot make virtue a law,
Chidesters brief, 10-minute response centered not only on the idea
of rethinking tolerance but of rethinking the concepts of coercion and
respect. A native of California who has spent the last 17 years teaching
in South Africa, Chidester referred frequently to his adopted homeland
in his remarks.
He also worked a Disney reference into his talk. Saying the primary cause
of intolerance is misunderstanding on both sides of a conflict, Chidester
mentioned how the animated film Pocahontas sketched out the differing
viewpoints of Native Americans and white Europeans, which were based on
a complete lack of knowledge of the others culture.
The audience chuckled, but Chidesters point was well made.