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Title: Space and spectacle : science and religion at the British Association for the Advancement of Science, 1840-1890
Author: Toal, Ciaran
ISNI:       0000 0004 2745 2576
Awarding Body: Queen's University Belfast
Current Institution: Queen's University Belfast
Date of Award: 2012
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This thesis examines public encounters between science and religion that took place in connection with the meetings of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (BAAS) between 1840 and 1890. Throughout, it is argued that these encounters are always made in place, and are profoundly shaped by the local, regional and national settings in which the BAAS met. This is explored through five meetings of the Association, including Cork (1843), Edinburgh (1850), Bath (1864), Bristol (1875) and Montreal (1884). From the politic-religious debates around Irish Repeal in Cork, the Disruption in Edinburgh's Established Church and the publication of Vestiges, or indeed the civic divide between Montreal's Protestant elite and the ultramontanist Catholic population, in each the boundaries between science and religion were differently shaped, contested and framed by local circumstances. As well as placing each meeting in its local, regional and national setting, attention is drawn to the importance of rhetorical geographies and 'communicative acts' in making science-religion encounters. The BAAS's dedication to political and religious neutrality in 1831 was a crucial organising protocol that limited the expression of religious ideas and the use of confessional language in the official confines of the meeting. Breaching this protocol, more often than not, invited controversy. At the same time, 'communicative acts' in different places also played a crucial role in mediating encounters. Spectacles, such as John Tyndall's 1874 'Belfast address', or the appearance of Bishop Colenso in Bath, or even minor religious services, were central in shifting and staging science-religion boundaries in particular times and places. Throughout the thesis, the profound spatial implications of the BAAS's prohibition on religion is highlighted. Indeed, attention is drawn to how the Association's leadership fostered the middle Sunday of the Association's week - a day left free from official business in the programme - as a rhetorical and material space where ideas banned from the Association could find expression. This space helped relieve tension between the Victorian appetite for religion and the BAAS's proscription. Finally, uncovering the Sunday activities attached to the Association helps, as is shown, counter a grand narrative of secularisation that ties science and professionalisation to religious decline.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available