The Book that Helped Bring Tolerance to Europe: “Ceremonies and Religious Customs of Various Nations” (1723)

In preparing for a lecture on the Enlightenment, I was reminded of a little known work that “Changed Europe.” (from the title of the book: The Book that Changed Europe) What makes Ceremonies and Religious Customs of the Various Nations (1723) so special is its attempt to present all the world’s religions in an objective and fair way in a world that still largely believed that tolerance was a sin.

It was also a major intellectual achievement. It was written by the Huguenot (French Protestant) refugee in the relatively tolerant Dutch Republic. The project comprised seven volumes with more than 200 illustrations. The images rival the text as an intellectual achievement in its own right. (see two of the images below) Another Huguenot, Bernard Picart, designed all of the book’s illustrations.

It was a major victory for tolerance!

"Hindu deities, one holding recognisable European musical instruments."

“Hindu deities, one holding recognisable European musical instruments.”

“Marriage and divorce ceremonies of the natives of Canada. Picart used the European style rug and classical poses to make this religion seem less foreign to European readers.”