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Title: Doctrine, progress and history : British religious debate, 1845-1914
Author: Bennett, Joshua Maxwell Redford
ISNI:       0000 0004 6061 6077
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2015
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Religion and history became closely related in new ways in the Victorian imagination. This thesis asks why this was so, by focusing on arguments within British Protestant culture over progress and development in the history of Christianity. In an intellectual movement approximately beginning with the 1845 publication of John Henry Newman's 'Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine', and powerfully spreading and developing until the earlier years of the twentieth century, British intellectuals came to treat the history of religion - both as a past and present process, and as a didactic genre - as a vital element of broader attempts to stabilise or reconstruct religious belief and social order. Religious revivalists, determined to use church history as a raw material for the inculcation of exclusive confessional identities and dogmatic theology, were highly successful in pressing it on the attention of early Victorian audiences. But they proved unable to control its meaning. Historians rose to prominence who instead interpreted the history of Christianity as a guide to how religious culture, which many treated as indistinguishable from society as a whole, might eventually supersede denominational and dogmatic divisions. Humanity's spiritual development in time, which numerous British critics assessed with the aid of German Idealist thought, also became an attractive apologetic resource as the epistemological basis of Christian belief came under unprecedented public challenge. A major part of that danger was perceived to come from rival, avowedly secularising interpretations of human social progress. Such accounts - the ancestors of twentieth-century secularisation theory - were vigorously opposed by historians who understood modernity as involving not the decline, but the purification of Christianity. By exploring the ways in which Victorian critics - clerical and lay, religious and secular - approached religious history as a resource for solving the problems of their own age, this thesis offers a new way of understanding the importance of history, claims to knowledge, and the nature and ends of 'liberalism' in the long nineteenth century.
Supervisor: Garnett, Jane Sponsor: Arts and Humanities Research Council ; Institute of Historical Research
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Great Britain--Church history--19th century ; Protestantism--Great Britain--History--19th century ; Theology--History--19th century ; Historiography--Great Britain--History--19th century ; Great Britain--Intellectual life--19th century ; Great Britain--Religion--19th century