Religion, reason, responsibility: James Martineau and the transformation of theological radicalism in Victorian Britain, 1830--1900
Wauck, Martin Peter
Wiener, Martin J.
Doctor of Philosophy
This dissertation is a study of the shifting presence of religious groups in nineteenth-century British public life. It concentrates on Unitarians, a denomination little studied by historians but who were one of the key groups enfranchised in the period around 1830, and examines how religious leaders made sense of both increasing political opportunities and increasing religious sectarianism. Its focus is James Martineau and the generation of denominational leaders who came of age after 1830 and their use of Romanticism to transform the traditional Nonconformist principle of religious liberty into a call for free theological inquiry. Making use of letters, diaries, newspapers, pamphlets and magazine articles, this dissertation shows how Martineau and his allies moved beyond the theological legacy of Joseph Priestley, transformed congregational life, reformed the denomination and reached out to other religious liberals in mid-Victorian Britain. They were among the first religious thinkers to endorse developmental science and German Biblical scholarship. In sharp contrast to many evangelical Nonconformists who radicalized religious liberty into a campaign for the abolition of Established Churches, Martineau and his followers hoped that the government would guarantee free theological inquiry. Martineau hoped to reform the Church of England into a non-dogmatic national religious community, but the growth of agnostic science and the Liberal embrace of popular politics undermined Martineau's vision. Although Martineau's career ended in failure, the demise of a vision of public life grounded in Nonconformist principles underscores the paradoxically conservative nature of religious change in nineteenth-century Britain. Martineau and his allies played a crucial role in broadening British religious and intellectual life, but the Anglican Church and its associated educational institutions proved much more successful representatives of that culture.
Biographies; Religious history; European history