In this lecture, Professor Martha Nussbaum discusses the life and writings of Roger Williams, founder of Rhode Island. The harsh realities of life in seventeenth-century New England gave rise to two very different methods of dealing with the transient and unstable nature of colonial ex-istence. Some sought to keep the “howling world” at bay by instituting strict religious orthodoxy. Williams, however, urged mercy and reasona-bleness as an alternative to this imposed response to uncertainty. Wil-liams argued that individuals with different religious ideas and philoso-phies can, and must, learn to coexist, and maintained that law, while relevant to keeping civil peace, has no authority in the jurisdiction of the soul, which should be governed by persuasion, not force. Williams pro-posed that, while souls may differ on what the truth is, it is the quest for that truth, the struggle to find the answers to the soul’s questions, that is what is most precious about the human conscience, no matter the individ-ual’s ultimate belief.
The full text of this David C. Baum Memorial Lecture is available to download as a PDF.