Conflict, Culture and Toleration

The module examines the problems posed by human co-existence, specifically with regard to divergent understandings of how we should live and how we should see or describe ourselves. The module begins by examining the notion of cultural conflict and highlighting the cultural aspects of historical and contemporary disputes. This leads into a discussion of the history of toleration as a response to cultural conflict, highlighting historical sources of toleration and co-existence in a range of different areas and regions. Building on this notion of traditions of toleration, the module then examines and problematizes the shift in conceptions of toleration, away from the notion of toleration as inaction in the face of vehement objection towards the notion of toleration as acceptance or affirmation.

This theoretical work leads into the applied element of the module, in which five topical case studies are examined: i) groups, identities and states, with regard to labelling of places, such as Derry/Londonderry and Falklands/Las Malvinas; ii) health, ‘socialised’ healthcare and narcotics in the US; iii) public displays of sexuality, through the examples of the prosecution of Oscar Wilde and the practice of bacha bazi in Afghanistan; iv) bodily autonomy, through examination of the place of male and female genital cutting in Western public discourse and v) blasphemy, explored through the public debate on the Danish Mohammad cartoons and Jerry Springer the Opera.

Examination of these cases will lead into the final week of the course in which the limits of toleration will be discussed and possible policy instruments by which conflicts may be managed outlined.

Select bibliography
There is no one single text for this module. However, there will be at least three key readings for each session. These will be made available on Moodle. One key reference text for the module is:

Forst, R. (2012) ‘Toleration’, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, E. N. Zalta (ed.), <>.

Audio material: The Open University’s Multiculturalism Bites contains relevant contributions by Tariq Modood, Will Kymlicka, Martha Nussbaum, Nancy Fraser, Anne Phillips, and Susan Mendus: These recordings are free to access, but require iTunes software, which is free to download.

Video material: A number of videos will be used as stimuli throughout the course. These will include Cracks in the Mask, which is a documentary about contestation of cultural goods, and ‘It Gets Better’, a youtube video project attempting to curtail the number of suicides among gay teenagers.