Unorthodox Anglican orthodoxy, Regency-era England
May 29, 2021 7:29 AM   Subscribe

I need some pointers on Anglican theology, religious positions etc. during the Regency era in England, particularly more fringe or less mainstream beliefs, for the purposes of fiction research.

I'm writing fiction at the moment that calls for the character of an Anglican clergyman during the late Regency era (1815-1820ish) who holds theological views outside of the mainstream. Think Mr Collins from Pride and Prejudice, except laser-focused on matters of theology and salvation (rather than on remaining in the good graces of Lady Catherine de Bourgh) at the expense of wider social acceptance.

My broad understanding of Christian religion in England during this era is that strong religiosity was not the norm, with plenty of clergymen along the lines of the idle country gentleman (e.g. Dr Grant in Mansfield Park, who cares more for his dinner table than his sermons, to borrow again from Austen), and that the main tensions at the time were between this culture and the evangelism of John Wesley and his ilk. Beyond that, I don't know a lot about the religious climate of the period, or indeed about the inter-Anglican climate specifically.

The character is dour, pious and ill-liked by his acquaintance, and I could use some specific terminology, works he'd likely have read and thinkers he'd be familiar with etc. to breathe life into him. His beliefs, while fringe, need to remain plausible within the Anglicanism of the time - unfortunately I can't make him a nonconformist or dissenter for reasons of plot.

Ideally I'm looking for sources richer than the many blogs that barely go into any detail at all about the religious culture of the era (like this), but not as rich as a full academic treatise on the theology of the period. Preference for articles and blog posts, or specific chapter recommendations if you have a particular book in mind.
posted by terretu to Religion & Philosophy (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
There were apparently a few Anglican clergymen (e.g. John Clowes) of that era who espoused & disseminated Swedenborgian beliefs.
posted by misteraitch at 9:47 AM on May 29, 2021

Diarmaid MacCulloch’s Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years is amazing. I think it could give you a lot of good context. I’m specifically thinking of Chapter 20: Protestant Awakenings (1600-1800) and Chapter 21: Enlightenment: Ally or Enemy? (1492-1815). Skim or use the index to find exactly the parts you need.
posted by bananacabana at 10:01 AM on May 29, 2021

Religion and the Decline of Magic by Keith Thomas has some work on this.
posted by PinkMoose at 10:44 AM on May 29, 2021

You can stick with Jane and Fordyce's Sermons which continued to be taught though out of date to scholars.

As you probably know, the gentry were Anglican, and the commoners were Chapel, i.e. Methodist, though the staff in the big houses may have had to sit through the master's choice of service.
posted by SemiSalt at 12:53 PM on May 29, 2021 [1 favorite]

In the period you mention, evangelicalism is indeed the most likely kind of deviance. He would have read Charles Simeon and John Bird Sumner and have doubts about baptismal regeneration, something that became a serious problem a little later in the Gorham Case. He might be an advocate of the doctrine of sola scriptura like the emergent Plymouth Brethren? This stuff was just about orthodox at the time, as I understand it, but became problematic in later decades.
posted by Phanx at 2:03 PM on May 29, 2021 [2 favorites]

I think you should start with the Thirty Nine Articles. Basically speaking, one needed to agree with the Thirty Nine Articles in order to be an Anglican clergyman. If your character believes something not completely contradicted by the articles, that could be a "weird" thing that would allow him to stay inside the church (the bishops, etc., might still come down on him). If he believes something contradictory to the articles (and professes it publicly or has a crisis of conscience) he's gotta go. Once you have an idea, you can do further research.

Consider, also, Presbyterianism of the era and Puritanism of the earlier era, which were in fact "laser-focused on salvation". I draw your attention to Article XVII and XVIII.
posted by Hypatia at 2:21 PM on May 29, 2021 [1 favorite]

Disestablishmentarian, for theological reasons?
posted by clew at 11:25 PM on May 29, 2021

Why not make your man a closet Unitarian? As an undergraduate, he was influenced by Samuel Clarke's The Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity and Isaac Newton's Historical Account of Two Notable Corruptions of Scripture. He corresponded with Theophilus Lindsey and John Disney, but could not bring himself to follow their example and resign his orders. He wrote a short treatise entitled An Apology for the Spirit of Free Enquiry, in a Letter to Dr Samuel Parr, Containing Brief Remarks on Dr Thomas Burgess's Sermon 'The Divinity of Christ Proved from His Own Declarations', but was unable to find a publisher for it. He was alarmed by the prosecution of William Frend, and ever since then he has been hesitant to express his views too openly, but in private conversation he has been heard to speak approvingly of Dr Priestley. After his death, a locked cabinet will be discovered in his study, containing the works of Hume and Voltaire, and a small pamphlet entitled The Necessity of Atheism which will immediately be burned by his executors.
posted by verstegan at 3:40 AM on May 31, 2021 [1 favorite]

« Older Could I have seen Morrissey on broadcast SNL in...   |   Urologist ordered a test I didn't approve – how... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.