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Why Tolerate Religion?

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Overview

This provocative book addresses one of the most enduring puzzles in political philosophy and constitutional theory--why is religion singled out for preferential treatment in both law and public discourse? Why are religious obligations that conflict with the law accorded special toleration while other obligations of conscience are not? In Why Tolerate Religion?, Brian Leiter shows why our reasons for tolerating religion are not specific to religion but apply to all claims of conscience, and why a government committed to liberty of conscience is not required by the principle of toleration to grant exemptions to laws that promote the general welfare.

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Editorial Reviews

GrrlScentist
The questions addressed in this book have been asked by many people throughout the decades, and are well-worth examining more rigorously. . . . This book's thesis is well-argued and promises to be thought-provoking for everyone who reads it.
— Devorah Bennu
New Statesman
A model of clarity and rigour and at points strikingly original, this is a book that anyone who thinks seriously about religion, ethics and politics will benefit from reading.
— John Gray
Jerusalem Post
A slim volume, deeply conversant with the literature in law and philosophy, and by turns bold, bracing and bruising, Why Tolerate Religion? should command the attention of anyone interested in the place of faith in the public arena.
— Glenn C. Altschuler
GrrlScentist - Devorah Bennu

The questions addressed in this book have been asked by many people throughout the decades, and are well-worth examining more rigorously. . . . This book's thesis is well-argued and promises to be thought-provoking for everyone who reads it.
New Statesman - John Gray
A model of clarity and rigour and at points strikingly original, this is a book that anyone who thinks seriously about religion, ethics and politics will benefit from reading.
Jerusalem Post - Glenn C. Altschuler
A slim volume, deeply conversant with the literature in law and philosophy, and by turns bold, bracing and bruising, Why Tolerate Religion? should command the attention of anyone interested in the place of faith in the public arena.
Barnes & Noble Review - Adam Kirsch
Why Tolerate Religion? is a closely argued and thought-provoking examination of questions that will only become more important in our increasingly multicultural world.
Magonia Review of Books - ohn Harney

The arguments in this book can not be adequately summarized in a reasonably short review, as they are rather complex, but is well worth studying, as it is an important subject, especially for those who have any responsibility for law-making.J
Morning Star - Alex Miller
Overall, Leiter's judicious and penetrating volume is an excellent example of how philosophy can be brought to bear on practical issues of the day.
Harvard Law Review
Why Tolerate Religion? is a readable book that exposes several tenuous assumptions underlying the predominant justifications for religious exemptions. At the same time, it provides a fresh and intuitive framework for analyzing conscience-based objections to facially neutral laws that should appeal to legal practitioners, jurists, and philosophers alike.
Choice
Students and scholars likely will be citing Leiter's clear and powerful arguments for many years.
Philosophers' Magazine - Scott F Aikin
[E]legant and accessible . . . straightforward and clear. Readers will find the book engaging and thought-provoking; yet Leiter's discussion is nonetheless philosophically sophisticated, incorporating nuanced considerations from legal theory, meta-ethics, and political philosophy. Most importantly, Leiter's book provides a sound basis for pursuing these crucial matters further.
From the Publisher

One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2013

"A model of clarity and rigour and at points strikingly original, this is a book that anyone who thinks seriously about religion, ethics and politics will benefit from reading."--John Gray, New Statesman

"A slim volume, deeply conversant with the literature in law and philosophy, and by turns bold, bracing and bruising, Why Tolerate Religion? should command the attention of anyone interested in the place of faith in the public arena."--Glenn C. Altschuler, Jerusalem Post

"Although this is a rather bold and provocative thesis, Leiter's approach is highly nuanced and painstakingly thorough, as he patiently walks readers through each definition, consideration, and possible objection. The overall effect is a very impressively argued case."--Library Journal

"Why Tolerate Religion? is a closely argued and thought-provoking examination of questions that will only become more important in our increasingly multicultural world."--Adam Kirsch, Barnes & Noble Review

"Overall, Leiter's judicious and penetrating volume is an excellent example of how philosophy can be brought to bear on practical issues of the day."--Alex Miller, Morning Star

"Why Tolerate Religion? is a readable book that exposes several tenuous assumptions underlying the predominant justifications for religious exemptions. At the same time, it provides a fresh and intuitive framework for analyzing conscience-based objections to facially neutral laws that should appeal to legal practitioners, jurists, and philosophers alike."--Harvard Law Review

"Students and scholars likely will be citing Leiter's clear and powerful arguments for many years."--Choice

"[E]legant and accessible . . . straightforward and clear. Readers will find the book engaging and thought-provoking; yet Leiter's discussion is nonetheless philosophically sophisticated, incorporating nuanced considerations from legal theory, meta-ethics, and political philosophy. Most importantly, Leiter's book provides a sound basis for pursuing these crucial matters further."--Scott F Aikin, Philosophers' Magazine

"Leiter's book is . . . very readable and it avoids technical jargon as much as possible. It works very well as a challenge to those who are sympathetic to conceding some exemptions from generally applicable laws because of religious beliefs, because the burden of justifying such exemptions is placed squarely on those who propose them."--Desmond M. Clarke, Jurisprudence

"[C]ompelling read . . . makes for a fresh and lively contribution to this ongoing debate."--Journal of Applied Philosophy

"Why Tolerate Religion? has a certain beauty in its brevity, austerity and aspiration to analytical rigor."--Russell Blackford, Free Inquiry

"It is highly recommended to all those interested in the relationship between religion and the state. It will certainly leave its readers with much to ponder."--Jakub Urbaniak, Studia Historiae Ecclesiasticae

"Brian Leiter's new book aims to be accessible to scholars outside of philosophy as well as to 'educated laypeople'. In my view, he succeeds in this endeavor. His book is very readable, and avoids unnecessary technicalities. The question Leiter addresses in his book . . . is of interest not only to academic philosophers, but to everyone who is curious about questions concerning the societal function and role of religion, toleration, minority rights, and conscience."--Martin Sticker, Zeitschrift fuer philosophische Literatur

"[A]n enjoyable read, accessible to the generally educated public but alive to a number of sophisticated philosophical ideas and distinctions, its prose crisp and straightforward, its attitude no-nonsense, its conclusion provocative, and its arguments clear, concise, and analytically rigorous."--Samuel Rickles, Philosophical Review

"Leiter's book . . . is highly recommended to all those interested in the relationship between religion and the state. It will certainly leave its readers with much to ponder."--Jakub Urbaniak, SOPHIA

"Why Tolerate Religion is a very good book that should be of interest to a wide range of readers. Leiter addresses a clear and undeniably important question in a philosophically rigorous yet accessible way. The book will generate debate inside and outside academia, and I, for one, am looking forward to Leiter's future work on the issues he has helpfully and forcefully raised."--David Svolba, Science, Religion & Culture

The Barnes & Noble Review

Several years ago, the Canadian Supreme Court heard a case involving a Sikh boy who wanted to be able to carry a ceremonial dagger, or kirpan, to school. Ordinarily, blades and weapons are banned from school grounds; but the court, recognizing that the kirpan is an important emblem of Sikh religious identity, ruled in favor of the boy. The case raises in stark form the question that law professor Brian Leiter asks in the title of Why Tolerate Religion? Imagine, Leiter writes, that the boy in question was not a Sikh but the product of a rural family, for whom carrying a knife was seen as a badge of manhood; imagine the knife had been handed down from father to son for generations. If that boy asked to carry his knife to school, not a court in Canada would have ruled in his favor. Religion alone, Leiter observes, has the power to suspend the usual rules, in the name of toleration. Is this just?

There are, of course, a number of rejoinders that immediately come to mind. A government should respect its citizens' consciences, since everyone finds it intolerable to have his or her most cherished beliefs interfered with. A free society benefits from a diversity of religious beliefs and traditions. Pragmatically speaking, it would be impossible to force all citizens to share the same religious beliefs. All of these answers Leiter accepts at the outset, and then sets aside. He is not interested in whether it is wise, beneficial, or practical to interfere with religion, nor does he doubt that liberty of conscience is a cherished right. Rather, his narrow focus in this long essay is whether there is a principled reason why a society should tolerate religion, even when the dominant group in that society disapproves of the religion in question and has the power to suppress it.

In the course of answering the question, Leiter covers a lot of philosophical and legal ground. He examines the thought of John Rawls and John Locke as it pertains to the question of religious toleration; he offers a neutral definition of religion that emphasizes the way it makes categorical demands and resists ordinary standards of evidence; and he asks whether an established religion, such as the Church of England, is necessarily a form of intolerance. Leiter is especially concerned with the French policy of laïcité, which bans all religious expression in the public sphere, and which came under heavy criticism when France prohibited Muslim girls from wearing headscarves in school.

Leiter criticizes that policy, arguing that there is a crucial difference between allowing citizens to identify themselves as members of a particular faith and using the state to advance that faith. Even though every state, including the U.S., promotes what Leiter calls a "Vision of the Good," he insists that it "cannot...try to shut down private citizens who support a different Vision of the Good." Finally, he arrives at the conclusion that there is no good reason to favor religious conscience over other forms of conscience; either you allow both the Sikh and the country boy to carry knives, or you should prohibit both of them. Why Tolerate Religion? is a closely argued and thought-provoking examination of questions that will only become more important in our increasingly multicultural world.

Adam Kirsch is a senior editor at The New Republic and a columnist for Nextbook.org. He is the author of Why Trilling Matters, Benjamin Disraeli, and The Modern Element: Essays on Contemporary Poetry.

Reviewer: Adam Kirsch

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691153612
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 10/28/2012
  • Pages: 168
  • Sales rank: 1,391,059
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 3.00 (d)

Meet the Author


Brian Leiter is the Karl N. Llewellyn Professor of Jurisprudence and director of the Center for Law, Philosophy, and Human Values at the University of Chicago. He is the author of "Naturalizing Jurisprudence" and "Nietzsche on Morality" and the coeditor of the annual "Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Law". He writes the Leiter Reports blog.
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Table of Contents

Preface to the Paperback Edition ix
Preface and Acknowledgments xvii
Introduction 1
Chapter I Toleration 5
Chapter II Religion 26
Chapter III Why Tolerate Religion? 54
Chapter IV Why Respect Religion? 68
Chapter V The Law of Religious Liberty in a Tolerant Society 92
Notes 135
Selected Bibliography 175
Index 181

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 1, 2014

    Lish

    Amen

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 22, 2013

    A weak argument

    The book makes a series of weak arguments that only an atheist would support - our founders were men of greater wisdom than this fool

    0 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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