The uneasy relationship between social contract theory and religious toleration

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This essay examines two ideas central to the liberal tradition and commonly associated in American political thought: social contract theory and religious toleration. Through the examination of four important cases - the religious establishments in early Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, and the thought of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke - I suggest that historically and conceptually these two ideas have little to do with each other and may be fundamentally at odds. By comparing debates over toleration in these four contexts, I seek to illuminate the tension and promise of building legitimate political authority while addressing religious diversity. In doing so, I highlight this uneasy historical relationship between contractarianism and toleration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)368-392
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Politics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 1 1997
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science

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