Breaking the Christian Atlantic: The legacy of Dutch tolerance in Brazil Chapter uri icon


  • © Cambridge University Press 2014. The history of the Atlantic world has not lent itself to the study of places like Dutch Brazil. Atlantic historians are much better at dealing with a stable entity such as the British Empire than the challenges of disjuncture and disruption represented by the Dutch Atlantic experience. To date, Dutch Brazil's Atlantic reputation resides primarily in its connection to the expansion of sugar production into the Greater Caribbean. Sugar and slaves were the primary concerns of Dutch Brazil, yet it played a transformative role in the religious history of the Atlantic world as well, namely by cracking Christianity's hegemony over the colonization of the Americas. In the territory under their control, the Dutch Protestant overlords not only permitted Roman Catholicism to be practiced but they also allowed Jews to live openly as Jews and brought in thousands of non-Christian Africans, making little effort to include them within the Christian community. It was not the intention of the West India Company's supporters, but Dutch Brazil marked a significant break in the expansion of Christianity overseas. That the tolerance of non-Christian beliefs was less a part of the plan for Dutch Brazil than a product of its creation in no ways diminishes its significance. The Dutch Brazilian experience should play an important role in any broad narrative of religion in the Atlantic world, even if we are only beginning to determine how.

author list (cited authors)

  • Haefeli, E.

editor list (cited editors)

  • van Groesen, M.

Book Title

  • The Legacy of Dutch Brazil

publication date

  • January 2013