Saturday, August 17, 2013

Two Books by Timothy Larsen: Religion in the Victorian Era

Thanks to a friend, who paid me the undeserved compliment that I know everything about English history and literature, I discovered first, this post about the Victorian autodidact Thomas Cooper and then these two books by Timothy Larsen, who is the Carolyn and Fred McManis Professor of Christian Thought at Wheaton College:


Crisis of Doubt: Honest Faith in Nineteenth-Century England

  • A revisionist study that challenges the existing, dominant narrative of the Victorian `crisis of faith'
  • Significant for literary, historical, and cultural readings of the Victorian era
  • Appendix including mini biographies of key personalities in the study for ease of reference
The Victorian crisis of faith has dominated discussions of religion and the Victorians. Stories are frequently told of prominent Victorians such as George Eliot losing their faith. This crisis is presented as demonstrating the intellectual weakness of Christianity as it was assaulted by new lines of thought such as Darwinism and biblical criticism. This study serves as a corrective to that narrative. It focuses on freethinking and Secularist leaders who came to faith. As sceptics, they had imbibed all the latest ideas that seemed to undermine faith; nevertheless, they went on to experience a crisis of doubt, and then to defend in their writings and lectures the intellectual cogency of Christianity. The Victorian crisis of doubt was surprisingly large. Telling this story serves to restore its true proportion and to reveal the intellectual strength of faith in the nineteenth century.

1. Crisis of Faith
2. William Hone
3. Frederic Rowland Young
4. Thomas Cooper
5. John Henry Gordon
6. Joseph Barker
7. John Bagnall Bebbington
8. George Sexton
9. How Many Reconverts Were There?
10. Crisis of Doubt

A People of One Book: The Bible and the Victorians
  • Presents the use of scripture as a unifying key to Victorian culture.
  • Provides an introduction to the diversity of Victorian beliefs including reference to Catholic, Unitarian, Quaker, atheist, agnostic, liberal Anglican, Spiritualist, Salvation Army perspectives.
  • Gives in-depth case studies of key figures including Florence Nightingale, T. H. Huxley, C. H. Spurgeon, Catherine Booth, E. B. Pusey, Charles Bradlaugh, Nicholas Wiseman, Grace Aguilar, Annie Besant, and Josephine Butler.
Although the Victorians were awash in texts, the Bible was such a pervasive and dominant presence that they may fittingly be thought of as 'a people of one book'. They habitually read the Bible, quoted it, adopted its phraseology as their own, thought in its categories, and viewed their own lives and experiences through a scriptural lens. This astonishingly deep, relentless, and resonant engagement with the Bible was true across the religious spectrum from Catholics to Unitarians and beyond.

The scripture-saturated culture of nineteenth-century England is displayed by Timothy Larsen in a series of lively case studies of representative figures ranging from the Quaker prison reformer Elizabeth Fry to the liberal Anglican pioneer of nursing Florence Nightingale to the Baptist preacher C. H. Spurgeon to the Jewish author Grace Aguilar. Even the agnostic man of science T. H. Huxley and the atheist leaders Charles Bradlaugh and Annie Besant were thoroughly and profoundly preoccupied with the Bible.

Serving as a tour of the diversity and variety of nineteenth-century views, Larsen's study presents the distinctive beliefs and practices of all the major Victorian religious and sceptical traditions from Anglo-Catholics to the Salvation Army to Spiritualism, while simultaneously drawing out their common, shared culture as a people of one book.

1. Anglo-Catholics: E. B. Pusey and Holy Scripture
2. Roman Catholics: Nicholas Wiseman and Sacred Scripture
3. Atheists: Charles Bradlaugh, Annie Besant, and 'this indictable book'
4. Methodist and Holiness: Catherine Booth, William Cooke, and the Scriptures
5. Liberal Anglicans: Florence Nightingale and the Bible
6. Unitarians: Mary Carpenter and the Sacred Writings
7. Quakers: Elizabeth Fry and 'Reading'
8. Agnostics: T. H.Huxley and Bibliolatry
9. Evangelical Anglicans: Josephine Butler and the Word of God
10. Orthodox Old Dissent: C. H. Spurgeon and 'the Book'
Conclusion: Spiritualism, Judaism, and the Brethren - A People of One Book

You may read samples from the first book here and of the second, here Both look absolutely fascinating!

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