Community and contention in early modern England

Amy Linch
Comparative analysis of the impact of religion on liberal political development is hampered by the presumption of secularization in canonical works of historical institutionalism. The prevailing arguments about the origins of liberal political institutions either omit religion completely as a significant factor in political and social life, or presume unique compatibility between Protestant Christianity and liberal democracy. This project challenges both the assumption of secular modernity and
more » ... ular modernity and Christian exceptionalism as preconditions of liberal political development by examining the debates about religious toleration in early modern England. The toleration debates provide a record of the ideas generated in response to state expansion, and demonstrate the critical role of religion in establishing the modern state as the primary frame of political power. They further illustrate the importance of religious narratives in justifying liberal political principles such as popular sovereignty and accountable government, as well as the fundamental rights to freedom of speech, the press, association and conscience.Drawing upon original readings of pamphlets, newspapers and political tracts from the seventeenth century, I argue that religion promoted political transformation in early modern England not because of the specifics of doctrine or decline in its relevance to social and political life, but because it was the locus of individual experience of state power. The monarchy radically extended its scope and capacity by appropriating the institutional and symbolic resources of the church. It used the church to promote institutional and cultural regularity across the realm. The common experience of civil power through state regulation of religious practice led to the development of a collective interest in securing the right to religious worship that extended across class and regional divisions. The Protestant political identity cultivated by the monarchy in its campaign for religious uniformity created cultural opportuniti [...]
doi:10.7282/t3dv1k19 fatcat:mw5ureaxmne2pom37vj3n5k55a