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Posted: 08 June 2006

Empires of Religion

Conference, Global Irish Institute, UCD, Belfield, Dublin 4
20-21 June 2006

Religion has traditionally accompanied the expansion, and the overthrow, of empires but it is sometimes argued that religion was of little consequence to the British Empire. Yet, absent-mindedly perhaps, British religious cultures were seeded around the globe in the course of empire so that they endure as some of its most abiding artefacts, particularly in its settler societies of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa.

Attempts to establish Anglicanism as the faith of the empire and missionary efforts to propagate Christianity among native peoples are only part of this complex religious story. From the Catholic metropole in Dublin, Irish Catholicism expanded prodigiously. English and Welsh nonconformity, Scottish and Irish Presbyterianism, Orthodox Judaism, and even esoteric faiths such as Theosophy and Spiritualism, all have significant, and little researched, imperial histories. There are many parallels between patterns of religious development in Britain and in some of the settler colonies: for instance the strength of Evangelicalism in the nineteenth century and of the social gospel in the early twentieth; the decline of Protestant church-going from around 1890, contrasted with continuing high levels of Catholic practice; the religious boom of the 1950s and the bust in the 1960s; and, most recently, the resurgence in Evangelicalism and Pentecostalism.

This conference will consider the many ways in which religion served, thwarted, transformed, mitigated and reinforced the bonds of empire in the colonised world during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Keynote Speakers:

Prof. Catherine Hall, University College London

Catherine Hall is one of the world’s most distinguished historians of gender, empire and the Victorian age. Her current research focuses on re-thinking the relation between Britain and its empire in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. She is particularly interested in the ways in which empire impacted upon metropolitan life, how the empire was lived 'at home', and how English identities, both masculine and feminine, were constituted in relation to the multiple 'others' of the empire.

Civilising subjects, her most recent book, looks at the process of mutual constitution, both of colonizer and colonized, in England and Jamaica in the period between the 1830s and the 1860s. Her new research focuses on the significance of Macaulay as politician, essayist and historian, in defining the parameters of nation and empire.

Her recent publications include: Civilising subjects: metropole and colony in the English imagination, 1830-1867 (2002) awarded the Morris D. Forkosch Prize by the American Historical Association; ed. Cultures of empire: colonizers in Britain and the empire in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. A reader (2000); with Keith McClelland & Jane Rendall, Defining the Victorian nation: class, race, gender and the reform act of 1867 (2000); with Leonore Davidoff, Family fortunes: men and women of the English middle class, 1780-1850 (new edn. 2002).

Dr Anne O’Brien, University of New South Wales, Australia

A graduate of the University of Adelaide and Sydney, Dr O'Brien is the author of Poverty’s Prison: The Poor in NSW 1880-1988 and articles on the influence of religious practice on the construction of gender in Australia. Her groundbreaking book God's Willing Workers: Women and Religion in Australia was published by UNSW Press in April 2005.

Dr O’Brien teaches Australian history, including specialist courses on welfare, values and beliefs and biography and autobiography. Research interests include the history of women, masculinity, religious belief, social welfare and music in Australia.

For more information contact:

Professor Hilary Carey, UCD School of History and Archives, University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin 4
T: +353 1 716 8354

Professor Hugh McLeod, History, University of Birmingham
T: +44 121 41 45665

Religion and Empire in Australia, 4-6 July 2006

In partnership with the Dublin conference, see also "Religion and Empire" - The Biennial Conference of the Religious History Society. 4-6 July 2006, Canberra ACT, AUSTRALIA. Enquiries to Prof. J. Gascoigne,

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