Descartes Centre Colloquium with Hannah Laurens and Coen Brummer

Hannah Laurens

Faith: Liberated or Limited? Koerbagh and Spinoza on Religious Toleration

In his banned dictionary Bloemhof (1668) the Dutch Radical Enlightenment philosopher and activist Adriaan Koerbagh (1633-1669) writes about the word ‘heretic’:

What wrong is in the word ‘heretic’, which means ‘follower’, so that people hate, imprison, hang, and burn each other? There is no wrong, for everyone follows their own [religious] inclinations. And the right someone has to follow his inclination, that very same right has another to follow his inclination. No one can judge another’s inclinations unless with great injustice …’.

In passages such as these, Koerbagh proves himself a fierce defender of religious toleration. Although his works were banned and have therefore been of limited influence, his political thought is pioneering and deserves close analysis. What conception of religious toleration did he defend and how did his conception differ from that of his famous contemporary Baruch de Spinoza (1632-1677)? In this talk I shall discuss Koerbagh’s notion of toleration in comparison to that of Spinoza, and place these notions in their historical context. While both thinkers were revolutionary in defending freedom of conscience, we might think of Koerbagh as the more radical and less pragmatic of the two. Even so, while both political theorists advocated a substantial expansion of religious liberty, they placed well-defined limits on religious freedom nonetheless.

Coen Brummer

In addition to Hannah’s talk, Coen Brummer will talk about what is called “de dubbele erfenis van het liberalisme” (which roughly translates to “the double legacy of liberalism”). While liberalism is deeply associated with ideas such as freedom of speech, freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, it is also a strong proponent of secularisation and enlightened and rational thought. Clearly, these two objectives are contradictory. To this day, the tension between these two objectives causes problems within social and political decision-making.


Short biography Hannah Laurens

Hannah Laurens is a PhD student in Ancient Philosophy at the University of St. Andrews where she focuses on nature and nous in the work of Aristotle, and a Junior Fellow at the Descartes Centre at Utrecht University. She holds a bachelor degree in Philosophy from the University of Birkbeck and did her master’s in Political, Legal and Economic Philosophy at the University of Bern. Moreover, she finished a BPhil at the University of Oxford. Next to her PhD research, she also writes about Baruch Spinoza and spinozist Adriaen Koerbagh. Additionally, she plays the violin at a professional level.


Short biography Coen Brummer

Coen Brummer is the director of the Mr. Hans van Mierlo Stichting, the scientific institute connected to the Dutch political party D66. Currently, he is working on a PhD on Dutch politician Samuel van Houten (1837-1930) and his influence on liberalism in the Netherlands. He holds two master degrees from Utrecht University, one in political history and one in history and philosophy of science. His main interest is politics and political ideas from the nineteenth century up until now. He has written and edited several books regarding this topic with his most current books being Tussen bestormen en besturen. 55 jaar D66 in de Nederlandse politiek (1966-2021) (2021), Naar een nieuw kabinet van sociale rechtvaardigheid (2021) and De canon van het sociaal-liberalisme (2019).

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