RELIGION AND THE
The American Experiment in Historical Context
The American founders created their
experiment in religious liberty on more than a
century and a half of colonial experience.
Martyred prophets of religious liberty in the West
European theologians and philosophers
The First Millennium
In the first three centuries of its existence, the
Christian church was largely isolate from
official Roman society.
After the conversion of Emperor Constantine in
312, the Roman authorities began to tolerate
Christian beliefs and practices.
In 380, Trinitarian Christianity was legally
established as the official state religion.
The First Millennium
The new form of church-state relations in
Christian Rome gave rise to a variety of new
Christian political theories.
This system of tempered imperial or royal rule
within the church largely continued in the West
after the Roman Empire fell in the fifth century.
The Papal Revolution
Church-state relations were turned upside
down after 1050.
Pope Gregory VII and his successors declared
the Catholic Church to be an independent and
superior legal and political authority of Western
The church’s canon law made regular use of
the concept of individual and corporate rights.
The Protestant Revolution
The Reformation, inaugurated by Martin
Luther’s famous posting of the Ninety-Five
Theses in 1517, began as a call for religious
The Protestant Reformation broke the unity of
Western Christendom and eventually laid the
foundation for the modern Western system of
The Protestant Reformation
The Lutheran Reformation territorialized the faith.
The Anglican Reformation nationalized the faith.
The Anabaptist Reformation communalized the
The Calvinist Reformation congregationalized the
Religious Establishment versus
The Reformation catalyzed both religious warfare
and persecution and corresponding movements
toward religious freedom.
Each competing religious polity had its own
preferred forms and norms of religious
France and England were not able to balance
religious establishment with religious toleration.
Colonization and Experimentation
The rival religious and political groups in early
modern Europe were projected in part onto the
Rulers from various European nations
extended their regimes across the world.
The most prominent colonizers were the
Colonial America was not only a frontier for
European establishments but also a haven for
Maryland in 1633 was an experiment in Catholic
and Protestant coexistence, founded by the
Catholic leader Lord Baltimore.
The “holy experiment” in religious liberty instituted
by Quaker leader William Penn in Pennsylvania
was inspirational and controversial.
Fifty years after the founding of Pennsylvania,
England set up its thirteenth colony in America
Georgia was a home for European religious
The eighteenth-century American experiment
in religious freedom was both very old and