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Religious Toleration in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Age

An Anthology of Literary, Theological, and Philosophical Texts

Albrecht Classen

More than ever before do we need the critical engagement with religious tolerance. Historical perspectives allow us to gain access to the discourse on this universal, often very contested topic. Already the Middle Ages and the early modern age witnessed the emergence of significant voices addressing toleration, if not even tolerance. This anthology opens many new perspectives toward this centrally important topic, adding a cultural-historical, religious, literary, and philosophical dimension mostly unknown today.

„Albrecht Classen reminds us in this volume that, "we all know just too well that the survival of the human species and its future development depends existentially on its ability and willingness to subscribe to the fundamental ideals of at least toleration, if not tolerance." As with others of Classen's works on the full range of medieval and early modern culture, this book could not be more timely or more urgently needed, especially for its positive approach to a highly volatile topic."

Fidel Fajardo-Acosta, Creighton University, Omaha, NE

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Marco Polo (ca. 1320): A Venetian’s Encounter with the Mongols.


Late Medieval Paradigms of Intercultural and Interreligious Exchanges

Challenges to the Christian Worldview

Throughout the late Middle Ages, a considerable number of merchants and friars made their way from Europe to east Asia, most famous among them, of course, Marco Polo. His extensive travelogue, Le Devisement du monde, contains many passages where the Christian is confronted with the Eastern religions and engages with them quite constructively, offering surprisingly open-minded perspectives and observations about the foreign world in the Mongolian empire.112 While Polo’s narrative has already been discussed many times by older and more recent scholarship, some of his comments about the religious world in the Far East deserve to be integrated into the present anthology because Polo presented astounding alternatives to the traditional European perceptions of the non-Christian cultures.

It would go too far to identify here a specific embrace of the Mongolian and other peoples, but the author definitely signaled that toleration of this ←243 | 244→Asian empire was a rational possibility, that the religions practiced there would not have to be condemned outright, and that the European imperialist attitude would have to be questioned in face of what he witnessed in the East. Polo was not much believed, however, and his account often appeared to be a fantastic compilation of imaginary comments, ‘millions of lies’ (Il Milione). Nevertheless, his Devisement was very popular after all, so his remarks about the Mongol culture and the religious situation there must have struck...

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