OTHER, THE, EUROPEAN VIEWS OF.
All epistemological and hermeneutical investigations are predicated on the observation that the human self, like all objects around a person, gains an understanding of its identity through the Page 1692 | Top of Article binary opposition of self and other. No value can be established for any element in the material and abstract world without the differentiation from "the Other." The famous linguist Ferdinand de Saussure described all essential components of language in terms of value units that develop their identity by being separate from all other elements surrounding them both in the syntagmatic and associative context. The same applies to the historical subject, man (here understood not in gender-specific terms), who discovers himself only when he realizes that he is different from all people around him. When a small child begins to recognize its environment, it also observes its own self. Hans-Georg Gadamer defines the phenomenon of selfhood versus otherness in the following way: "Whatever is being distinguished must be distinguished from something which, in turn, must be distinguished from it. Thus all distinguishing also makes visible that from which something is distinguished" (p. 272). All individuality is intimately connected with the recognition of the Other as a phenomenological entity outside of the self, and all cultures, religions, and peoples have relied on this fundamental truth in order to establish their own selfhood, legitimacy, culture, religion, and nationhood. The "I" discovers itself, as Martin Buber pointed out, through the separation from the "You," which, in its ultimate manifestation, proves to be God. Once the individual realizes that there is the Other, expressed by the pronoun you, the process of speaking, dialogue, discourse, and epistemology, both in the mundane and spiritual dimensions, begins.
The phenomenon of "otherness," as a subject of philosophical discourse led, in the 1980s, to the development of a new academic discipline, xenology, or the study of "alterity." Xenology focuses on the Other as a critical component of cultural anthropology, and as a key issue in the history of mentality, of the Church, and also of everyday life (Sundermeier, Wierlacher, Hallson). Study of the Other cannot be limited to the history of the Western world—the same phenomena also determine cultures in all other parts of the world to a lesser or greater degree—but for pragmatic purposes this article concentrates on the Judeo-Christian tradition. Most military conflicts throughout time can be explained either by religious disputes or material greed, or the two combined. These sentiments, however, result from hostility against or disregard of the Other whose own identity is not acknowledged but instead is treated as a dangerous challenge, if not an actual threat, to the existence and social construct of the dominant culture.
Considering military conflicts since the mid-twentieth century, including the Kosovo War in 1999, the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, and the Iraq War in 2003, hostility against the Other and xenophobia in global terms continues and represents a major source of discord in increasingly multicultural societies and among nations (Gioseffi).
Since the end of World War II, the number of legal and illegal immigrants to Western nations has grown steadily. Once these asylum seekers or economic refugees settle in the new home country, they often face prejudice, rejection, hatred, and physical violence. In fact the early-twenty-first-century world is undergoing a major paradigm shift because the ethnic composition of Western societies is experiencing a transformation, bringing representatives of different religious, ethnic, and cultural groups into close proximity. The degree to which foreigners are integrated into a particular society undoubtedly represents a benchmark of its developmental stage as an enlightened, tolerant, and humanistic community. Earlier societies had to cope with similar phenomena, but throughout history the fundamental conflict between self and other has shaped most cultural, religious, military, and political developments. As Irvin Cemil Schick observed, identity is the result of a construction process, not simply a given, "and narrative is the medium through which that construction is realized" (Schick, p. 21).
Perspectives in the Ancient World
In ancient Greece, peoples of other ethnic backgrounds were identified as barbarophonoi (Homer, in the Iliad [c. 800 B.C.E.]), or as those who spoke nonunderstandable languages. However since the Greek world did not have the concept of a larger national unit, everyone outside the family or urban community was perceived as foreign, as other (allos, allodapos, and xenos). Significantly the Greeks did not necessarily differentiate between members of a foreign polis (city-state) and non-Greeks. Nevertheless the Greeks espoused the ideal of hospitality, which extended especially to foreigners; in later centuries many cities appointed a proxenos whose task it was to serve as a host for foreigners, perhaps comparable to the modern diplomatic institutions. At the turn of the sixth century B.C.E., a more xenophobic concept of the barbarian developed in Greece, triggered by a feeling of cultural superiority and also by fear of the growing Persian threat. Both Euripides and Aristotle, for instance, identified the barbarian with subhuman creatures and argued that their sole function was to serve as slaves—an attitude that slowly changed only after Alexander the Great's conquest of the Persian Empire (Stutzinger). Whereas the early Roman republic was built on a fairly strict division between Roman citizens and foreigners, during the time of the Roman Empire the Roman civitas was extended to additional population groups. The Constitutio Antoniniana (212 C.E.) awarded Roman citizenship to all free people living within the borders of the state. Nevertheless the entire ancient world accepted the idea of slavery and treated all defeated foreigners as objects that could be sold or killed at will. During the age of migration, Germanic tribes attacked the Roman Empire strengthening the notion of the barbaric others, especially since Romans regarded their nomadic opponents—in close parallel to the ideology espoused by modern colonialists, especially in the Americas and Africa—as primitive, lacking in culture and civilization.
During late antiquity the concept of monsters—teratology—living at the outskirts of the Roman world became popular; these monsters have populated literary and artistic imagination ever since. Pliny the Elder collected some of the most influential accounts about these monsters in his Naturalis historia (before 79 C.E.), followed by Caius Julius Solinus's Collectanea rerum memorabilium (c. 250 C.E.), which medieval and early modern encyclopedists and naturalists eagerly copied. Solinus's works became the source for scores of artists and writers who blithely integrated this "information" about strange beings on Page 1693 | Top of Article the periphery of human civilization into their texts and images (Williams).
The ancient world primarily projected images of the Other as a matter of curiosity, with the specific purpose of populating worlds far from the eastern Mediterranean to satisfy general scientific interest. But in the early Middle Ages the contrast between self and other gained in intensity because of the sharp conflict between the Christian Church and pagan cultures, the constant threat of famine due to undeveloped agriculture and farming, and constant military threats from other places (Huns, Saracens [Arabs], Vikings, and later the Magyars). A remarkable expression of the fear of the Other can be found in the myriad monster images depicted in churches, on government buildings, on the facades of houses, in wall paintings, in sculptures, and in numerous manuscript illuminations (Benton, Camille). Some of the best medieval art focuses on these monstrous figures and elaborates on their fearful, hideous features, reflecting a highly ambivalent and contradictory attitude toward the Other. Whereas Christian theologians established rigid criteria to determine good versus evil, or self versus other, in accordance with biblical teaching, popular culture continued to be dominated by strong undercurrents of paganism that derived strength from its fascination with and abhorrence of the Other (Milis). In the Old English heroic epic Beowulf (early eighth century), for example, the protagonist's struggles, first against the monster Grendel, then against its mother, and finally against a dragon, represent the individual stages of interaction with a foreign world and establishment of an identity for a particular social group. Many other heroic epics in Old Norse and Old and middle-High German literature can be explained in terms of their treatment of the Other and their interest in offering a medium of self-identification for the reader/listener (Lionarons).
All early-twenty-first-century world religions, especially Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, are predicated on the exclusivity and absoluteness of their own religion and the truth of their faith, since the monotheistic concept negatively determines the relationship with all other religions, rejecting them as other and hence as false. By contrast, people in ancient Greece and Rome recognized many different gods and easily tolerated representatives of other religions as long as they demonstrated loyalty to the secular authorities and obeyed the rules of public mores (Assmann).
Since the early Middle Ages, factions of all three major religions have demanded absolute adherence to their own faith and have not hesitated to persecute and execute members of the other religions, unless the latter voluntarily submitted to the dominant religion. The history of the Western world is deeply influenced by constant, bitter struggles among these three religions, whether in the form of Arab conquests in the seventh and eighth centuries, or Christian crusades between 1096 and 1291. In antiquity and the Middle Ages, these conflicts and tensions were often addressed with violence (crusades, pogroms, expulsions, imperialistic warfare, and hostile persecutions), victimizing the Jewish population above all. There were a number of attempts by Christian philosophers and theologians from the thirteenth to the fifteenth centuries to enter into critical discourse with Jews (Paris Disputation , Barcelona Disputation , Tortosa Disputation [1413–1414]; Maccoby), but these were intellectual experiments and ultimately yielded no positive changes in the relationship between the religions; the situation for Jews became increasingly worse (expulsion from Spain in 1492). Although Augustine (354–430) had firmly argued for a tolerant attitude toward Jews, insisting that they were "living testimony to the antiquity of the Christian promise" (Cohen, p. 33), and although Bernard of Clairvaux (1090–1153) had emphasized that Jews were the "living letters of the law" (Cohen, p. 388), anti-Semitic attitudes grew in intensity throughout the late Middle Ages and were promulgated even by prominent theologians and philosophers including Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274), who argued that Jews willfully rejected the true faith and could be compared to recalcitrant heretics. In the early sixteenth century, the Christian convert Johannes Pfefferkorn, who had been a Jew, became one of the most vicious enemies of Jews and made highly controversial allegations against them, allegations that even some Christian thinkers, such as the Hebrew scholar Johannes Reuchlin (1455–1522), severely criticized (Kirn).
The modern, post-Reformation world witnessed at least some attempts to establish principles of coexistence, toleration, and, especially, since the age of Enlightenment, tolerance. Nevertheless intolerance, xenophobia, religious tensions, and subsequent military conflicts have continued to torture humankind, and the contentious relationship between self and other, both in its philosophical and political contexts, remains highly fragile and subject to manipulation and distortion. Racism, sexual intolerance, marginalization of minority groups, misogyny, and numerous forms of violence against weaker members of society are results of this binary opposition in which the self sometimes desperately struggles against the Other in order to establish its identity.
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1791, clearly specifies a modern, tolerant attitude toward the Other: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances." Athough the meaning of this statement and its practical application have remained contested, the amendment continues to serve as the basis for intensive discussions about the relationship between the individual citizen and the state for the United States and many other Western societies in the early twenty-first century (Mittal and Rosset, Amar).
One of the most far-reaching and pragmatic expressions of the ideals of the Enlightenment was the legal code established under Napoléon, the Code Napoléon (1804), that stipulated the following: (a) equality of all in the eyes of the law; (b) no recognition of privileges due to the happenstance of birth; (c) freedom of religion; (d) separation of church and state; and Page 1694 | Top of Article (e) freedom to work in an occupation of one's own choosing (Martin). Many of the principles in the Code decisively influenced legal systems developed in other countries in the Western world and continue to be cornerstones of modern societies.
Religious differences, even in the early-twenty-first-century West, are a major source of conflict and may always exist, as documented by numerous expressions of anti-Semitism, manifested most virulently in the Holocaust committed by the German Nazis. Each generation struggles with problems of cultural identity and differentiation from the Other, which is the basis for the exploration of the self. However when weakness on one's own part or ideological manipulation by authority figures are involved in the epistemological process, the Other can easily be abused for a wide range of political purposes. People are vulnerable to brainwashing, which relies on an underdeveloped sense of individuality and a high degree of insecurity in the face of ethnic, cultural, religious, linguistic, and political otherness. Fear, intolerance, and dogmatic thinking have always acted to strengthen the group identity and denounce the Others. This is evident in the centuries-old rejection of Sinti and Roma (formerly known as Gypsies), the persecution of Jews since late antiquity, the expulsion of the French Huguenots and the Amish and Mennonites in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the abuse of blacks by colonialists and slaveholders worldwide, the genocide of North and South American Indians, the massive purge of alleged enemies of the Russian, Chinese, and Cambodian communist regimes, and the genocides in Armenia, Burundi, Kosovo, and elsewhere in the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.
Mysticism, Demons, and the Other
Since the Middle Ages, belief in ghosts, demons, spirits, and other elements have represented a challenge to the Church, and philosophers and authorities stuggle in vain against various forms of superstition and fear (Delumeau, Dinzelbacher). During the high Middle Ages, supernatural phenomena were often associated with the divine, or regarded as emanations of the Godhead, leading to a widespread mysticism movement. Bernard of Clairvaux exerted great influence on his contemporaries and posterity not only due to his learnedness, but also because of his intensive examinations of mystical phenomena. His super Cantica Canticorum particularly developed a highly affective interpretation of the Song of Songs and its imagery of the Godhead as bridegroom and the soul as bride. Contemplation was the first stage in the quest for the religious other, followed by mediation, prayer, fasting, sleep deprivation, and grace, which ultimately allowed the mystic to experience revelations. Hildegard of Bingen (1098–1179), leader of a Benedictine convent, gained fame for her mystical visions, which were accepted as authentic by Church fathers (especially Bernard of Clairvaux and Pope Eugene III), who authorized her to go on preaching tours throughout Germany. Other famous mystics were Mechthild of Magdeburg (1208–1282), Mechthild of Hackeborn (1241–1299), Gertrud the Great (1256–c. 1301), Bonaventura (1217–1274), Henry Suso (1295–1366), Meister Eckhart (c. 1260–1327), Bridget of Sweden (1302–1373), and Catherine of Siena (1347–1380) (Szarmach). Although each mystic experienced individualized visions, all mysticism commonly dealt with the ineffable quality of the Godhead and the absolute realization of the Other in the religious context (Classen, 2002a). Since there are no adequate words to explain the phenomenon of the soul's encounter with the divine, mystics commonly resorted to an apophatic discourse, or, as in the case of Meister Eckhart, to negative theology, which contended that man cannot really talk about God, the absolute Other, and emphasized the need to subjugate the self in the presence of the divine (Milem).
In the late Middle Ages and particularly from the sixteenth century, the Church intensified its control over individualized forms of religious experience and rejected those who claimed to have had visions or been privy to divine revelation (Caciola). As a consequence, women with prophetic abilities, visionaries, and ecstatics were increasingly regarded with suspicion and became victims of the Holy Inquisition.
Although attempts were made to reject magic and to oust different types of seers and sorcerers, such as harioli, auspices, sortilegi, and incantatores, these practioners preserved their secret influence far into the modern age (Flint, 1991). Throughout Europe, both the rural population and intellectuals, even as late as the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, subscribed to various forms of superstitions, including witchcraft, fear of the devil, and evil spirits (Ginzburg), not to mention a belief in astrology.
Surveying the eighteenth century, Theodor Adorno and Max Horckheimer identified the phenomena as the "dialectics of enlightenment." But such beliefs continue in early-twenty-first-century society as well, allowing technocrats and bureaucrats to manipulate the Other for their own purposes without regard for the latter's nature, interests, and needs: "Enlightenment behaves toward things as a dictator toward men. He knows them in so far as he can manipulate them" (Adorno and Horckheimer, p. 9).
Even as rationality offers logical explanations of the world around us, people fall back to superstitions and irrational thinking, which permits ideologues to stereotype groups and blame them for a wide range of general ills. In the Middle Ages, the preferred object of this manipulative strategy was the Jews. In early modern Europe, women were accused of witchcraft and burned at the stake, serving as scapegoats for a heightened sense of religious insecurity, fear of the scientific paradigm shift occurring at the time, the growing pressure of the centralized power of the state, and a brewing conflict between popular culture and beliefs and intellectualism (Levack, Scholz Williams).
Ancient and medieval authors, chroniclers, and writers of travelogues projected images of a fabulous East, which was paradise-like in its luxuries and sophistication, but sometimes also populated by monsters. By contrast, early twenty-first-century authors, filmmakers, and artists have resorted to technological utopias, relying on a stereotypical fear of and fascination with extraterrestrial beings, but in anthropological and epistemological terms the differences are minimal. From the late Middle Ages, people imagined the East, especially India, as a sensuous paradise, just waiting for European colonization. This form of Orientalism, which Edward Said discussed Page 1695 | Top of Article in his famous study (1978), continues to be a pervasive and manipulative concept of the Other both in its epistemological and social-literary dimensions in the early twenty-first century. Overcoming the monster, defeating extraterrestrial creatures, or colonizing their exotic worlds represent the triumph of the self over the Other and offer the chance to establish the self's identity. This phenomenon seems to have characterized all developmental stages of the Western world. Medieval monster lore was deeply influenced by ancient concepts developed by Herodotus (c. 484–between 430 and 420 B.C.E.), Ctesias (c. 400 B.C.E.), Pliny the Elder (23–79 C.E.), and Solinus (third century C.E.). Though Augustine, in his City of God Against the Pagans (BK. XVI, ch. 8) expressed doubts, he accepted the possibility that monsters might exist. He suggested that if these monstrous races were real, they should be treated as God's creatures: "He Himself knows where and when anything should be, or should have been, created; and He knows how to weave the beauty of the whole out of the similarity and diversity of its parts" (Augustine, p. 708). Decidedly excluding the idea that God might have erred when he created monsters, Augustine concludes that "just as some monsters occur within the various races of mankind, so there should be certain monstrous races within the human race as a whole" (Augustine, p. 710). One of the earliest examples of monster imagery in the Middle Ages can be found in the Anglo-Saxon Wonders of the East (c. 970–1150).
Throughout the Middle Ages, theologians and artists, writers and philosophers were deeply divided over the correct explanation of monsters, the absolute Other within human epistemology (Cohen, J. J., 1999). Jacques de Vitry (1160–1240) attempted to describe the European perspective of monsters: "And just as we consider Pygmies to be dwarfs, so they consider us giants.… We consider the black Ethiopians of bad character; among them, however, the one who is blackest is judged most beautiful" (Friedman, p. 164). The fascination that monsters exerted throughout the centuries was undeniable, as documented by numerous manuscript illustrations, sculptures, chronicle accounts, travelogues, textile images, and ivory, stone, and wood carvings (Bovey). Many bestiaries depict not only a wide variety of animals, but also a broad spectrum of monsters whose grotesque features were interpreted as signaling moral decrepitude or who were seen as symbols of imminent apocalypse. Often the treatment of monsters reflected a profoundly Manichean worldview that divided everything into good and evil. Late-medieval poets took a more diversified approach and developed accounts of basically good monsters, such as Melusine, half human and half snake (Classen, 1995, p. 141–162), who was eventually expelled from human society because of her human husband's failure to keep her true nature a secret (see the text versions by Walter Map, Gervasius of Tilbury, Jean d'Arras, Couldrette, and Thüring von Ringoltingen). Many medieval manuscripts, especially Psalters, contained images of hybrid creatures, grotesque beings, and monsters, which could have hardly served as deterrence from sinfulness; instead they represented a growing fascination with the Other and an emerging playfulness in the visual depiction of the world (Camille, Yamamoto). The encyclopedist Thomas of Cantimpré (1201–1272), relying on Augustine's ruminations, urged his readers to "consider the forms of creatures and delight in the artificer who made them" (Friedman, p. 123). When explorers reached the shores of the New World in 1492, they used monster images to describe and depict the indigenous population, thereby casting them as other from the start (Flint, 1992, p. 53–54, 61, et seq.).
Tolerance and Toleration
The term "tolerance," reflecting a unique approach to the Other, requires a detailed explanation as to its meaning and manifestations during different cultural periods. While classical Greece and Rome generally tolerated people of different beliefs, it would be more correct to identify the openness toward Others as toleration. The persecutions of Jews, and later of Christians, was not the result of religious doctrines, but rather the consequence of claims by Jews and Christians as to the absolute truth of their respective beliefs. Augustine was the first to formulate a preliminary concept of tolerance toward those who embraced different religions (Jews) or were sinners in the eye of the Church, such as prostitutes (Epistola ad Vincentium V ), as long as such open-mindedness contributed to the cohesiveness and stability of the Christian community. However, Augustine vehemently attacked those Christians who followed deviant teachings (Donatists), and approved of their persecution. In the Middle Ages, scholastic writers pursued the idea of tolerance in the light of sinful behavior that could be accepted as long as it did not affect the principles of Christian belief. Thomas specifically differentiated among heathens, Jews, and heretics, and argued for the toleration of various religious practices among Christians as long as they supported the truth of the New Testament. Moreover Thomas rejected forced conversion and baptism since such acts constituted a violation of natural law (Bejczy, p. 370).
A number of medieval writers explicitly advocated tentative models of tolerance. In his middle High German epic Willhelam (c. 1218), Wolfram von Eschenbach's female protagonist Gyburc pleads for humane treatment of the heathens, her own relatives who she had left behind when she fled to the Christian world with her lover and future husband Willhelam. In the pan-European love story Floire et Blanchefleur (Old French version, c. 1160), just as in Aucassin et Nicolette (Old French, early thirteenth century), the difference in religion of the young couple has no significance, whereas love is described as the dominant force that overcomes all social, ethnical, military, and political conflicts (Shutters, 2004). In the anonymous middle High German verse romance Reinfried von Braunschweig (c. 1280), the protagonist at first intends to force his opponent, the Prince of Persia, to convert to Christianity. But, upon the latter's plea, Reinfried allows the Persian to maintain his religion because he realizes that a forced conversion would never make the Prince into a true Christian. In fact the protagonist abandons all his religious goals and becomes a secular tourist who simply admires the wonders of the East. The Catalan mystic and poet Ramon Llull (c. 1232–1316) strongly advocated openness toward the Other in his Book of the Gentile and the Three Wise Men (c. 1275–1290). Similar to Peter Abelard's Dialogue between a Philosopher, a Jew, and a Christian (c. 1136–1139), Llull's treatise is built upon dialogues among representatives of the three world religions about their specific form of Page 1696 | Top of Article belief. Although Llull, like Abelard, explicitly advocated Christianity, he accepted other religions as valid belief systems that he could not and did not want to condemn absolutely. On the contrary, both Abelard and Llull suggested that conversion to Christianity must be based on true conviction, which in turn was based on an intellectual, rational discourse in which the opponent was convinced of the falsity of his or her original belief and convinced by logical arguments and a newfound faith to accept Christianity (Nederman, Muldoon). Although in reality openness toward other religions was hardly ever practiced—as evidenced by the many persecutions and expulsions of and pogroms against Jews—many medieval and early modern philosophers can be credited with bold, farsighted exploration of the possibilities for various religions to exist side by side. Nicolaus of Cusa (1401–1464), in De pace fidei (1453), proposed embracing the concept of concordia (concordance) of the religio una in ritum varietate (one religion in a variety of rituals). Some humanists such as Thomas More (1485–1535) and Erasmus of Rotterdam (c. 1466–1536) advocated acceptance of religion as an individual worldview that should not be imposed on other people. Heretics should be persecuted, but only by the state and only when they represented a danger to the entire community (De amabili ecclesiae concordia liber ). Conversely Martin Luther (1483–1546), although he had broken with the Catholic Church, strongly defended the persecution of Jews and members of various Protestant sects, and approved of the death penalty. John Calvin (1509–1564) defined tolerance as friendliness of the spirit (mansuetudo animi), but he did not raise any objections to imposing the death penalty on heretics, such as the Spanish theologian Miguel Serveto (c. 1511–1553).
On the opposite side of the debate was the French philosopher Jean Bodin (1530–1596) who defended the freedom of individual consciousness and tolerance (Six Livres de la République ). In the tradition of Abelard and Llull, Bodin composed a dialogue text in which representatives of various religions discuss their theological differences (Colloquium heptaplomeres [c. 1593]).
Religious tolerance was an important issue in the wake of religious wars on the European continent and in England up to the end of the Thirty Years' War because the dominant religions persecuted minorities, which in turn led to military conflicts. Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) was the first to define religious convictions as "private opinions" (Leviathan ), which paved the way for John Locke's famous "Letter Concerning Toleration" (1689): "For no man can, if he would, conform his faith to the dictates of another" (Locke, see Zagorin). Nevertheless even Locke refused to accept atheists and charged them with refusing to abide by the basic rules of human society, which were predicated on the concepts of covenants, promises, and oaths.
Traditional scholarship argues that Locke's "Letter Concerning Toleration" represents the first attempt in the history of the Western world to establish philosophical principles of tolerance, followed by comparable statements by Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767–1835), Benjamin Constant (1767–1830), and John Stuart Mill (1806–1873). But even though the term tolerance might not be fully applicable in other contexts, as early as late antiquity and the Middle Ages writers and philosophers embraced certain types of tolerance, or at least toleration, for example Augustine, John of Salisbury (c. 1115–1180), Marsiglio of Padua (1275–1342), Nicholas of Cusa (1401–1464), and Bartolomé De Las Casas (1484–1566) (Nederman, 2000). Francisco de Vitoria (1483–1546), insisting upon the inalienable rights of all peoples, formulated such astonishingly open-minded views regarding the North and South American Indians and their inhumane treatment at the hands of the Spanish conquistadors that his works were almost put on the papal index of forbidden books (Schmidinger, pp. 194–202). In particular, de Vitoria argued that conversion to Christianity can only be possible if the prospective convert has been convinced rationally. Infidels can never be forced to convert, since faith is also a matter of reason. This attitude resonated profoundly in John Locke's "Essay Concerning Human Understanding" (1690): "Such is the nature of the understanding that it cannot be compelled to the belief of any thing by outward force. Confiscation of estate, imprisonment, torments, nothing of that nature can have any such efficacy as to make men change the inward judgment that they have framed of things.… It is only light and evidence that can work a change in men's opinions; and that light can in no manner proceed from corporal sufferings, or any other outward penalties" (Vernon, p. 17). In other words, tolerance, or acceptance of the Other, in his inalienable character and nature, has been explored by philosophers throughout history, but has remained a fleeting concept regularly undermined and challenged by social, economic, political, and military realities.
Major breakthroughs in the history of modern tolerance did not occur until the late eighteenth century. Emperor Joseph II of Austria issued a law of tolerance for the various religious (Christian) communities in his inherited lands, giving members of non-Catholic communities recognition, as long as the dominance of the Catholic Church was not compromised. In letters that he exchanged with his mother Maria Theresa, he said that he remained an ardent defender of Catholicism, but wanted to give Protestants equal rights, at least in terms of their status as citizens, and to grant them the right to practice their religion. The Constitution of the United States was based on the principle of tolerance, best reflected in the Bill of Rights, as formulated by Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826), and Thomas Paine (1737–1809) in his enormously popular Rights of Man (1791).
The most influential and far-reaching public defense of tolerance, however, might well be that of the German Enlightenment writer Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729–1781) in Nathan the Wise (1779). Based on an episode from Boccaccio's Decameron (c. 1348–1350), the key component of the story is a parable that the Jew Nathan tells the Sultan Saladin. The Sultan, short of money, encourages Nathan to identify which of the three world religions is the only true one, hoping to extort money from Nathan who is sure to reveal his preference of Judaism. Nathan, however, does not provide a straightforward answer, and instead relates the parable of a man who owned a valuable ring that had the power to make its bearer loved by all people. The ring's owner leaves the ring to Page 1697 | Top of Article the son who is dearest to him. The pattern of that legacy is continued for many generations, until one day a father has three sons whom he loves equally. When death approaches, the father has two perfect copies of the ring made and secretly gives one to each of his three sons, pretending that it is the only and true ring. After his death the sons go to a judge to determine who owns the authentic ring and hence who is heir to the father's estate. The judge refuses to decide and advises the three brothers to "Let each of you demonstrate his belief in the power of his ring by conducting his life in such a manner that he fully merits—as anciently promised—the love of God and man." The brothers are told to return to the ultimate judge, God, within a thousand years and to confirm before Him who had been the most loved because of his kindness and piety. Saladin understands Nathan's message and discharges him, accepting him as a friend. Saladin has learned that all three religions are equal in their basic essence and that believers of all faiths should tolerate each other, competing only in an attempt to be most worthy of the love of families and neighbors.
Despite numerous efforts by lawmakers, philosophers, theologians, and poets, the deep gulf between self and the Other has continued to plague the modern world. Although Jews gained more freedoms after the early nineteenth century and were increasingly integrated into Christian society, by the 1890s anti-Semitism had reached new levels of intensity, making possible the atrocities committed by the Nazis during the Holocaust, and subsequent pogroms in Poland and Russia following World War II and continuing into the early twenty-first century. The world continues to struggle with the dialectics of self and other, in intellectual and popular culture, in economic and military terms, and in issues regarding the legal rights of immigrants, refugees, prisoners of war, criminals, and others who society at large does not accept or tolerate (Levinas, pp. 145–149. Ancient man regarded barbarians or even members of neighboring city-states as other. Medieval people used images of monsters to characterize believers of other religions as dangerous infidels or heretics. These as well as homosexuals, apostates, the possessed, and even women were considered to be the Other, both threatening and dangerous (Goodich). In the early twenty-first century, dominant societies have created a variety of new images of the Other, such as illegal immigrants, asylum seekers, political refugees, Muslim terrorists, and imagined creatures from outer space (Schreiner).
The content of the theoretical template of the Other has changed over the centuries but its fundamental binary opposition that the self always establishes barriers to the Other in order to create an identity—a process that is possible only through deliberate differentiations—remains. While not inherently hostile or dangerous, in most cases, throughout history people have tended to cast the Other in the worst possible light because the self usually chooses a path toward itself by rejecting the Other and establishing a close-knit community (family, village, church group, country, and people). Since the Middle Ages individual writers, poets, philosophers, and theologians have argued in defense of the Other and have made serious attempts at breaking down the rigid barriers between it and the self, demonstrating that open-mindedness and tolerance are values that have long been important in human society. In other words, arguments for the humane, integrative treatment of the Other have been proposed throughout history, with the idea of tolerance arising in different contexts in different cultures and historical periods. Since the creation of the U.S. Constitution and the Code Napoléon, however, Western societies, particularly, have struggled, more or less successfully, to establish institutional frameworks and legal, social, economic, and religious conditions through which the constructive interaction between self and other have become increasingly possible (Wierlacher, 1993).
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