Professor Simon Schama on The Difficulties of Toleration: Jews amidst the Christians and Muslims
Tuesday 8 March 2011
Simon Schama argues there should be no such thing as a crime against God
In a week that saw international pressure mounting on Pakistan to abolish its blasphemy laws and a condemnation of its persecution of Christians, historian Professor Simon Schama argued that there should be no such thing as a crime against God. The statement was made at the Woolf Institute's free public lecture on 8th March at St Edmund’s College, entitled The Difficulties of Toleration: Jews amidst the Christians and Muslims which was attended by over 100 people, standing room only.
The claim, which referred back to Locke and Jefferson, was part of an historical tour de force looking at the treatment of Jewish minorities amongst Christian and Muslim majorities. Professor Schama, probably best known for writing and hosting the BBC documentary series A History of Britain, described tolerance as an ‘invidiously loaded term’ as it presupposes inferiority of a group who are to be tolerated.
He also claimed that it was not the role of the West to control or even initiate a debate about the outcome of democratic revolution, but that it was our duty to cheer on the ‘modern, free, sharia resistant’ society that might appear in Egypt.
Director of the Woolf Institute, Dr Edward Kessler, ‘Professor Schama's talk touched on the future of the Enlightenment, an issue in the fore of the encounter between Jews, Christians and Muslims. The Woolf Institute is committed to fostering better understanding between religions and between religion and society, which remains a hotly contested topic today, as in the 18th century.’
Professor Schama taught history at Cambridge from 1966 to 1980 and is presently Professor of Art History and History at Columbia University in the United States. Other works on history and art include The Embarrassment of Riches, Landscape and Memory, Dead Certainties, Rembrandt's Eyes, and his history of the French Revolution, Citizens. Professor Schama is also art and cultural critic for The New Yorker.
His books have won the Wolfson Award for History, the W.H Smith Prize for Literature; the National Academy of Arts and Letters Award for Literature and most recently for Rough Crossings the National Book Critics' Circle Award for Non-Fiction (2007). His latest book, The American Future: A History was published in the spring of 2009.