East Asia Workshop: Politics, Economy and Society

(Jan. 30) Yanfei Sun, “Empires and Religious Toleration”




“Empires and Religious Toleration 

Yanfei Sun

Associate Professor of Sociology, Zhejiang University

UChicago Sociology Alumni


Jan. 30th, Thu 5:00-6:30 pm (NEW TIME FOR WINTER QUARTER!)

Tea Room, Social Science Research Building (2nd floor).

Refreshments will be provided


Recent scholarship of pre-modern empires likes to compare them with modern nation-states and stresses the propensity of pre-modern empires to tolerate diverse religions and cultures in their own territories. This emphasis, however, belies the fact that the religious policies of pre-modern empires differ significantly: some indeed allowed all kinds of religions to exist and flourish, while others persecuted heretics and non-believers, and carried out forced conversions. In this talk,I examine the religious policies of 23 pre-modern Eurasian empires and rank them into six different tiers according to their degree of toleration towards non-state religions. I argue against the existing theory that highlights state capacity of empires as the key to explain their different degree of religious toleration and instead stress the nature of the state religion and the related state-religion relations as the key to explanation. I found that pre-modern empires associated with a state religion that had a zero-sum mentality towards other religions and a strong drive to convert people tended to adopt intolerant policies towards other religions. Among these empires, those whose political power was more circumscribed by the power of the state religion are found to be even more religiously intolerant.

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The East Asia Workshop is sponsored by the Council on Advanced Studies in Humanities and Social Sciences.

Sun, Yanfei – Empires and Religious Toleration

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