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Anglicanism and the British Empire, c. 1700-1850.

Anglicanism and the British Empire, c. 1700-1850.

By Rowan Strong. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2007. Pp. ix, 323. 61 [pounds sterling]/$110.

The swing in recent years toward the study of cultural history and its bearing on the expansion of empire or the dynamics of imperialism has found little place for religion. It has often seemed as if there was no significant corner, not simply for the history of missions (now, however, coming into its own as an important research field), but for religious conceptions of empire or ecclesiastical interests as a spur to colonization. For example, the Oxford History of the British Empire, volume 1 (1998), appeared to endorse this perspective as it found no niche for religion. More recently, however, the absurdity of separating religion and culture has been recognized, and their integration is under way, as Rowan Strong's recent book usefully demonstrates.

Anglicanism and the British Empire is not a history of missions, of Anglican missionary societies, of the colonial development of the Church of England, or of the colonial encounter. Taking his lead from the foundation of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in 1701 and the rich resource available in the regular publication of its annual sermons, Strong offers readers a history of the public views on empire of both metropolitan leaders of the Church of England and leading colonial Anglicans. He identifies an "old imperial paradigm" that accepted the close relationship of state and church and rested on state initiative and ecclesiastical concern with governance and security in the face of Nonconformity and Roman Catholicism. Elaborated in the early eighteenth century, it was long-lived, its echoes still sounding from pulpits in the 1850s.

These ecclesiastical ambitions were reinvigorated by their institutionalization in North America and India. Between 1780 and 1830 newly founded bishoprics, notably in Quebec and Calcutta, asserted the principles of a traditional imperial discourse relatively untouched by Enlightenment values. Here Strong takes issue with the suggestion of historians such as C. A. Bayly that only then did a new imperial Anglicanism assert itself, embracing both High Anglicans and low-church Evangelicals as part of an imperial resurgence following in part the losses inAmerica. For Strong's churchmen, continuity of principles and discourse, not discontinuity, was the reality: after a "long eighteenth century" an Anglican empire for an Anglican state seemed on the verge of realization.

Anglican hopes, however, were dashed by developments at home and in the colonies. With state recognition of a growing "denominational pluralism," a "new Anglican imperial paradigm" began to accept that "the empire was now no longer likely to be an Anglican one" (p. 220). This paradigm was rooted in the practicalities of secular and ecclesiastical self-government, episcopal leadership, and "a fundamental episcopal identity"; it was given form first in the Colonial Bishoprics Fund set up in 1840-41 and then immediately in the colonial episcopate of Bishop Selwyn in New Zealand. Voluntarist principles were drawn upon to provide for a revivified imperial Anglicanism once the old paradigm failed its supporters.

This book will be of serious interest not only to historians of religion and empire but also to those engaged with current debates on culture and empire, globalization, and "the British world."

Andrew Porter is Rhodes Professor Emeritus of Imperial History at Kings College London.
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Author:Porter, Andrew
Publication:International Bulletin of Missionary Research
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jul 1, 2009
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