Two of the presentations included in the program of the 4th Congress of the European Association for the Study of Religions (EASR), held last week in Santander (Spain), dealt with the life and work of Michael Servetus and its consequences in 16th-century Europe.
This 4-day international congress gathered more than 170 scholars and professors of Religious Studies, History and related fields, coming mainly from Continental Europe, but with a relevant representation of other countries, such as Japan. The event was organized under the auspices of the Spanish Association for the Science of Religions (SECR), and in association with the Department of Historical Science at the University of Cantabria. Its theme was "Religious Tolerance and Intolerance". According to the organizers, the purpose of the meetings was "to discuss the concepts of religious tolerance and intolerance, the development of these notions through history and the expressions of religious tolerance and intolerance in society, both in theory and practice, in the past and in the present. The conference is a forum for the exchange of ideas of scholars working within the broad field of the academic study of religions."
I was pleased and honored that my paper on "The Edict of Torda: An Early Experiment in Religious Tolerance in Modern Europe" was accepted by the organization to be delivered at the Congress.
Issued 30 years before the world-famous Edict of Nantes, the Edict on Religious Tolerance of Torda (1568), in the principality of Transylvania, stands as the first decree of its kind in the history of modern Europe. In a period of history in which persecution, intolerance and war between states and princes because of religion was the general rule, this Edict also represents an unusually advanced political solution to the problem of increasing religious diversity and rivalry between religious and social factions, based on acceptance of difference as an enriching experience, and a clear precedent of more recent developments in the legalization of religious pluralism such as the American Constitution.
In my presentation, I examined the unique political and sociological circumstances existing in the principality of Transylvania in the 16th century that allowed the political experiment of religious tolerance represented by the Edict of Torda to take place. I described how the ideas of the Reformation arrived in connection to the different ethnic communities living together in that area, and how the influence of Michael Servetus's ideas in the Transylvanian royal court, through the Italian physician Giorgio Biandrata, was a key factor in Prince János Zsigmond's decision to first freely debate and then explicitly tolerate all received religions in his country. I also briefly discussed the personality and biography of Ferenc Dávid, the leading Reformer and court preacher who was first the main defender of religious toleration, and then the rebel who paid with his life his unending push for religious reformation. Finally, I also paid attention to recent developments in the studies on the Edict of Torda and its political context that pay attention to the policies of the Ottomans on the region and the role that the Turkish Empire assigned to Transylvania, an issue that had been largely disregarded until recent times.
Professor Mariano Delgado from the University of Freiburg, Switzerland, also presented a paper on "The Influence of Humanists Juan de Segovia, Juan Luis Vives and Miguel Servet in the Swiss Culture of Tolerance", although in his speech he concentrated exclusively on the figure of Servetus as the starting point in the struggle for freedom of conscience in Reformed Europe.
We hope that Servetian studies are more and more present in international congresses and academic gatherings, following the trend that we have already witnessed in the Santander congress
Jaume de Marcos