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Title: The Church Act: The expansion of Christianity or the imposition of moral enlightenment?
Contributor(s): Stoneman, David (author); Roberts, David (supervisor)orcid ; Scully, Richard (supervisor); Ihde, Erin (supervisor); Clark, Jennifer R (supervisor)
Conferred Date: 2012
Copyright Date: 2011
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Abstract: The Church Act (1836) redefined and reinvigorated the religious environment in the emerging British colony of New South Wales, which profoundly impacted on its social and political development in a period of rapid population growth. It was a popular measure that has seen Governor Richard Bourke, its principal architect, be remembered as a provider of religious freedom. The simple motivation of the Act to expand Christianity and therefore morality has been complicated by the assertion that it assisted the expansion of a 'new faith' called moral enlightenment. This changes the implication of the Act and redefines the motives of the people responsible for its introduction, especially Bourke, by assuming that secular Enlightenment principles overrode Christian objectives. This has provided an ideological superstructure that has been used by some nationalist historians to present a picture of New South Wales colonial life that was fundamentally irreligious verging on atheistic. This has served to diminish the importance of religious thought and belief in the early development of Australia. This thesis argues that the Church Act was conceived to counter various forms of alternative belief and synchronised Christianity, ranging from plebeian 'folk religion' to heterodoxical, intellectual Protestantism. It encouraged orthodox Christianity by financially supporting the denominations that had cultural as well as spiritual connections to the majority of the population. The thesis concludes that the Church Act should be categorised as being a product of the 'Age of Atonement' not the imposition of moral enlightenment.
Publication Type: Thesis Doctoral
Field of Research Codes: 210303 Australian History (excl Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander History)
Rights Statement: Copyright 2011 - David Stoneman
Open Access Embargo: 2013-06-16
HERDC Category Description: T2 Thesis - Doctorate by Research
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