Everyday Enlightenment

Maybe ordinary people invented religious tolerance.

Gregory Nemec

Gregory Nemec

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Philosophers like Voltaire, Locke, and Spinoza usually get credit for the ideas that helped Europe move from Inquisition to Enlightenment, from religious persecution to tolerance. Stuart Schwartz would like those big thinkers to share the spotlight with Diego Hurtado, Maria de Guniz, and Juan de Anguieta.

Schwartz, the George Burton Adams Professor of History, uncovers the stories of these and other common folk of Spain, Portugal, and their colonies in his new book, All Can Be Saved: Religious Tolerance and Salvation in the Iberian Atlantic World. He calls the book "a celebration of people who were willing to think on their own" amid the repression of the Spanish Inquisition.

Like many creations, All Can Be Saved started with sex. Schwartz had been researching cases of people who rejected church doctrine that extramarital sex was a mortal sin. Reading their Inquisitorial records, he learned that those people "had a lot of other funny ideas," he says. "One was that if you lived a good life, God would save your soul. It didn't matter whether you were a Muslim or a Jew."

Conventional history teaches that eminent "breakthrough thinkers," Schwartz says, "so influenced people that it changed everybody's mind. I'm arguing that there was already a kind of soil for these ideas to develop in. The ideas were flowing from the bottom up, not necessarily from the top down."

While some of Schwartz's bottom-up subjects are skeptics or atheists, others "consider themselves good Christians," he notes. "One could make a comparison today to American Catholics who practice birth control."  

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