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Title: Rational dissent in England c.1770-c.1800 : definitions, identity and legacy
Author: Smith, Valerie
ISNI:       0000 0004 6061 918X
Awarding Body: University of Kent
Current Institution: University of Kent
Date of Award: 2017
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The importance of late eighteenth century Rational Dissent has been rightly recognised by many contemporaries and subsequent historians. Yet the character of Rational Dissent has been less than fully understood, partly because of the overconcentration on Richard Price and Joseph Priestley, and on the politics, rather than the all-important theological ideas which underpinned the political ideas of Rational Dissenters. This dissertation adopts a new and prosopographical method of analysis. The Biographical Register of authors of published and unpublished material, and of prominent local figures demonstrates the highly varied range of the individuals, congregations and other groups amongst its adherents and reveals valuable insights into the wide areas of opinions within Rational Dissent, and key periods and forms of activity. This research, through its prosopographical approach, covers new ground in demonstrating that significant differences between Rational and Orthodox Dissenting theology led to the emergence of a Rational Dissenting identity which became sharply and increasingly divergent from that of Orthodox Dissenters. Through extensive analysis of the identity of Rational Dissent as a whole, it demonstrates considerably greater nuances in belief than have previously been recognised. It establishes that it was the specific theological ideas of Rational Dissenters which underpinned and drove their political concepts and notions as to the nature of society. Based on investigation of 19 lists of subscribers to Rational Dissenting published works and organisations, this study identifies a core of 444 multiple subscribers, the overwhelming majority committed adherents of Rational Dissent. These are substantial lists totalling 6,047 subscriptions. The 444 individuals as a group provide an essential basis for analysis of the social, geographical and intellectual appeal of Rational Dissent amongst its less visible adherents, notably women, laymen and ministers who sustained it at local level. Analysis of previously largely over-looked Unitarian Library records allows identification of the social and intellectual span of their readers and their particular areas of theological interest. This range of sources enables statistical analysis of the identity and appeal of the broad base of Rational Dissent in the late eighteenth century. This dissertation argues that Rational Dissent in England between c. 1770 and c. 1800, characterised by its own distinctive doctrinal identity, merits further investigation, and constitutes a primary motivation for this study. From this research emerges a fuller understanding of the place of Rational Dissent within society, its complex and evolving nature, and finally analysis of the legacy of Rational Dissent in the early nineteenth century.
Supervisor: Ditchfield, Grayson ; Foster, Andrew Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available