Rational to Radical Dissent
The Protestant demand for the "right to private judgment" places responsibility on individual Christians to interpret the Scriptures according to their own reason. Recent scholarship reveals that heterodox understandings produced by such private interpretations proved to be a pivotal force in the emergence of the freedom to dissent as a value of civil society. This course considers the tangled evolution of the concept of the "right to private judgment" from Martin Luther's defiant insistence on personal spiritual choice through its influence on modern understanding. We consider three historical case studies: the Religious Wars between French Catholics and Huguenots (French Protestants) in sixteenth century France, the consequent invention of the virtual Republic of Letters, and the effects of Huguenot skepticism on early modern liberal thought. We turn to the English Civil War in the next century to trace the effects of religious intolerance in acts of regicide, abolition of the monarchy, and uneasy truces between anarchy and order. Finally, we track the grassroots struggles of late 18th century British Rational Dissenters to cast off their second class status as citizens that led to radical reinterpretations of patriotism (many supported the American colonists' fight for Independence), abolition of the Slave Trade, expansion of the franchise to working class men, and some attention to the "wrongs of women."