Hinduism, Christianity, and Liberal Religious Toleration

Political Theory 33 (1):28-57 (2005)


The Protestant conception of religion as a private matter of conscience organized into voluntary associations informed early liberalism's conception of religion and of religious toleration, assumptions that are still present in contemporary liberalism. In many other religions, however, including Hinduism (the main though not only focus of this article), practice has a much larger role than conscience. Hinduism is not a voluntary association, and the structure of its practices, some of which are inegalitarian, makes exit very difficult. This makes liberal religious toleration an awkward fit for Hinduism; granting religious toleration in India undermines equality and autonomy in severe ways. Yet Hinduism is not without its virtues, and has historically been what I call externally tolerant-it has been relatively tolerant of other religions. Liberal toleration, by contrast, is internally tolerant-it is tolerant of religions that fit the Protestant model, while its tolerance of others is considerably more qualified. I briefly speculate at the end of the article about how to combine these two models of toleration

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