University of Sussex
Falmer, England

by Knud Haakonssen, Professor of Intellectual History, School of Humanities

In the fierce contemporary debates about the role of religion in society, the relationship between religious and secular ideals is often taken to be one of absolute opposition. We live with it by placing the two opposites in different boxes, but polite society quickly becomes uneasy when the universal claims of either are being aired. Yet, some of the central features of secular society resulted from the pursuit of religious interests in early modern Europe. Our ideas of a politics that is not in the service of religion, of comprehensive toleration based upon universal human rights, and of the primacy in public debate of a rational-scientific culture all owe a great deal to concerns alien to these ideas, namely those of confessional religion. History is therefore a dangerous weapon for both sides in this discussion. Nevertheless, a proper appreciation of the historical record can certainly spur our imagination, and this lecture will try to do so by special attention to the story of toleration and rights.
At a special ceremony after the lecture, the Arts A1 and A2 lecture theatres will be renamed in honour of the eminent historian Asa Briggs, now Lord Briggs of Lewes. Lord Briggs is one of the founders of the University of Sussex and its second Vice-Chancellor from 1967 to 1976. These lecture theatres are at the very heart of the campus, and central to the outstanding architectural legacy left by Sir Basil Spence.

Arts A2 lecture theatre

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Added by dallaway on April 14, 2008