In February, Samford University’s History Department and Political Science Department co-hosted a seminar on "Toleration in Free Society" sponsored by the Institute for Humane Studies (IHS,) a libertarian non-profit organization that provides programming and financial support for scholars and students. IHS staff joined Samford department chairs Jonathan Den Hartog (history,) Lee Trepanier (political science) and an interdisciplinary mix of students in discussing and debating ideas of toleration in the writings of John Stuart Mill, Jonathan Rauch, Catherine A. MacKinnon, Jeremy Waldron and Greg Lukianoff.
“Free speech issues were at the center of nearly every text we discussed, whether it was John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty or more contemporary works, such as Catherine MacKinnon’s argument against pornography,” said senior Law, Politics and Society major Jones Willingham, one of 14 student participants. “I was familiar with some of these ideas from my prior experience as a University Fellow, but the discussion of these texts among students in a larger variety of disciplines helped me approach them in ways that I had never thought of before.”
Trepanier hoped that interdisciplinary discussion would help students develop a greater appreciation of the rights that make toleration possible in a free society, and help them connect with important social issues. “This voluntary seminar is another example of the high faculty and student engagement which has earned Samford notice in the Wall Street Journal and other publications,” he said.
Den Hartog, whose scholarly specialties include church-state relations, observed that the seminar challenged participants to engage in the type of reflection and respectful interaction that he said is at the heart of the study of the humanities. “Students came together from varied perspectives to consider how we can continue to speak freely in our current moment,” he said. “They once again showed the strength of our Howard College programs.”