Religion, politics, and conscience
in The Levellers
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This chapter explores the connections between the Levellers’ religious and political thought, suggesting that there are strong resonances and parallels between the two, particularly as the Levellers conceptualised freedom of religious conscience as a natural and inalienable right, similar to other such rights to be ‘reserved’ from the political authorities. This does not, however, mean that religion was subordinated to or subsumed within politics: the Levellers’ religious beliefs were genuinely christian, although significantly heterodox at least in Walwyn and Overton’s cases. This heterodoxy was linked with the Levellers’ strikingly positive view of nature and the capabilities of reason, which reduces the divide between secular and spiritual life in Leveller thought. The Levellers’ commitment to freedom of conscience went along with a positive belief in the capacities of ordinary people to decide for themselves in both spiritual and secular matters. The Levellers were radical tolerationists in their removal of any coercive power over religion from the magistrate, but they did not completely separate church from state: a non-compulsive state-church was advocated by both Lilburne and Walwyn.

The Levellers

Radical political thought in the English Revolution


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