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Title: The Unitarian physiologist : science and religion in the life and work of William Benjamin Carpenter (1813-1885)
Author: Delorme, Shannon
ISNI:       0000 0004 6499 3590
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2016
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This thesis provides the first comprehensive study of an eminent but oft-overlooked Victorian polymath, with the overarching aims of assessing his contributions to nineteenth-century intellectual life and of exploring the mutual relations between science and religion in his work. One of the towering figures of the Victorian scientific establishment, William Carpenter (1813-1885), F.R.S, was a famous physiologist and public figure. He is most remembered for his concept of 'unconscious cerebration' which contributed to the emergence of the disciplines of neurology and modern psychology, but Carpenter was also noted amongst his peers for his evolutionary approach to the study of the unicellular marine invertebrates known as the foraminifera. As a lifelong practicing Unitarian, Carpenter's outspoken support for evolutionary theory made him an exemplary advocate of the compatibility between rational thought and Christian belief amidst the Victorian debate about science and religion. As the Registrar of the University of London during its formative years, Carpenter also had a nationwide impact on the fortunes of scientific education and secondary education as a whole. Finally, as a populariser of science and public moralist, "Dr. Carpenter" was also well known to the Victorian public as one of the most outspoken critics of spiritualism, alleged paranormal phenomena, and superstition more generally. Nevertheless, no systematic study of Carpenter's work had until now been carried out, and the commonly held view that he lacked originality as a scientist had not been fully questioned. The current study therefore aims to review Carpenter's achievements and trace his intellectual legacy. As an intellectual biography, it argues that focusing on the now lesser-known members of the British intelligentsia can shine new light on the context of the professionalization of science in Victorian Britain. In its focus on science and religion, this thesis argues that a deeper understanding of Carpenter's Unitarianism must feature at the heart of any endeavour to analyse his work. Previous references to Carpenter either bypassed Unitarianism and its nineteenth-century transformations, or reduced Unitarian thought to certain core tenets that fell short of uncovering Carpenter's philosophical pursuits. Carpenter's Unitarianism is still often equated with the rationalism and mortalism that defined late eighteenth-century Unitarianism, and this failure to recognise how much Carpenter's own faith had departed from earlier strands of Unitarian belief has led to some misinterpretations of his motives. The current thesis therefore offers fresh interpretations of Carpenter's work, based on new archival material and recent historical studies of the shifting priorities shaping the more romantic and emotional spirituality of nineteenth-century Unitarianism. Taking an integrative approach to Carpenter's various projects makes it possible to show how seminal many of his ideas were, and how his Unitarianism, both in its social and spiritual dimensions, influenced his professional, political and intellectual choices. The biographical angle taken in this thesis also makes it possible to uncover a degree of epistemological coherence underpinning Carpenter's thought, and to argue that Carpenter's efforts to transcend conflicting viewpoints partook of his wider social and metaphysical aims.
Supervisor: Corsi, Pietro Sponsor: Arts and Humanities Research Council
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: History of biology ; Microscopy ; Evolutionary theory ; Science and religion ; Pseudo-Science ; Oceanography ; Psychical studies ; Unitarians ; Science education ; naturalism ; transformism ; spiritualism ; orthogenesis ; evolution ; unitarian ; eozoon ; microscopy ; science and religion ; psychical studies ; registrar of the University of London