This important new volume contributes to a 'new imperial religious history' which seeks to bring together and move beyond some of the concerns of traditional and post-colonial approaches to empire and religion. The Introduction summarises current work in the field, and highlights a number of areas which are explored in the essays to follow: the relationship between religion and British national identity; the British Empire as mutually constitutive of both metropole and colony; the idea of a 'spiritual metropole' that may or may not map onto imperial power; and the different 'appropriations' of Christianity within the imperial and post-imperial periods.
One substantial contribution to the scholarship made by this volume concerns its success in introducing discussions of Roman Catholicism into a field which is very much dominated by studies of the Protestant missionary movement. A strong opening chapter by Tadhg Ó hAnnracháin explores the paradox that, as England underwent the Reformation, Ireland became a bastion of Catholicism. Ó hAnnracháin argues that this was key to the treatment of Ireland as a colony and to the centrality of Catholicism to Irish nationalism, the latter enabled by large numbers of Irish Catholic clergy on the ground who successfully worked against attempts at religious domination.
Other essays explore aspects of Catholicism. John Wolffe focuses on the Imperial Protestant Federation, formed by anti-Catholic writer and Anglican evangelical Walter Walsh, which gained momentum throughout the empire - in Britain and North America from the 1820s and Australia and New Zealand in 1840s and 1850s - as anxiety emerged debate over the wording of the Accession Declaration at the time of Queen Victoria's death. Wolffe argues that anti-Catholicism continued in colonial settings and was powerful when 'religious concerns ... could combine effectively with more political and constitutional ones' (p. 58). Peter Curnich's stimulating contribution re-evaluates the historiography of Australian Catholicism. The Catholic Church was a major competitor with Protestantism for spiritual authority in nineteenth-century Australia. Curnich challenges what he sees as an over-focus among historians on the conflict between the supposedly all-successful 'Irish spiritual empire' and the 'English Benedictine' phase, to argue that a period of stabilisation in 1870s and 1880s under Archbishop Vaughan produced a distinctly 'Australian' Catholic Church. Fiona Bateman also opens a rich vein, with her exploration of C20th Irish 'pagan missions', operating in places which were not colonies but formed part of an extensive Irish spiritual empire. While I am not altogether convinced that the focus on landscape and travel/exploration is evidence of a reframing of British imperial discourse, Bateman's argument - that for Irish missionaries 'the function of their discourse was not so much to strengthen the functioning of their "colonial" power, but to strengthen Irish identity as Catholic and civilised' (p. 283), and therefore to counter racist British representations of the Irish - is engaging and compelling.
One of the strengths of this volume is the inclusion of a number of essays on Ireland and Scotland. Essays by Esther Breitenbach and John MacKenzie discuss the role of overseas Presbyterian missions in the construction of a Scottish imperial identity. I have some reservations about MacKenzie's claim that the focus of Scottish missionaries in the Cape - on civilisation as well as conversion, on the role of women in the mission and the education of girls - represents a specifically Scottish approach to mission; both are features of early C19th LMS (and other) missions derived from England. But these essays begin a valuable exploration of the ways in which missionary writing - and especially the work of missionaries such as Slessor and Livingstone - were represented popularly as Scottish contributions to empire, shaping an enthusiasm for the empire and understandings of various colonial others, while also contributing to the construction of a Scottish imperial identity.
A number of essays explore changing attitudes to race in the nineteenth century. Catherine Hall focuses on the Macaulays - father, Zachary, and son Thomas Babington - and the different ways in which they conceptualised religion and empire. Thomas Babington Macaulay, while intensely involved in empire in India, was uninspired by the 'negrophilia' of his father's circle and more concerned with issues concerning English civilisation. Hall argues that the distinction between the two men illuminates changing attitudes to race and empire between the late eighteenth and mid nineteenth centuries. Shurlee Swain's contribution explores the deployment of imperial imagery in discussions of the urban poor in domestic missionary endeavours in the second half of the nineteenth century. She illuminates the tension between imperial imagery in the representation of 'darkest England' and the essential 'whiteness' of the targets of the child rescue movement who could be sent to white settler colonies to help build the empire. Anne O'Brien and Peter Clayworth explore tensions between the commitment to universal spiritual equality and the politics of difference, in the life histories of Gilbert White, the founding Bishop of Carpentaria, and James Noble, the fist Indigenous deacon within the Anglican Church in Australia (O'Brien), and the writing and missionary practice of Richard Taylor (1805-1873), Anglican missionary and naturalist in New Zealand from 1839 (Clayworth). John McAleer's recovery of the fascinating 1826-1831 diary of Mrs Alison Blyth, wife of a Scottish Presberyterian missionary in northern Jamaica, discusses Blyth's sympathetic if paternalistic representations of slaves - what he calls a 'humanization of the slave' rather than expression of 'grand . anti-slavery pronouncements' (p. 214) - and her criticisms of white corruption, including the established church in Jamaica. The essay rather tantalisingly mentions themes of slave adaptations of Christianity and the role of Christianity in cultural preservation, the development of which would have sat well within the volume.
As the authors here argue, there is much work still to be done on settler churches. The essays in the final section of this volume contribute to this field. Ruth Compton Brouwer's discussion of Canadian Protestants who both supported and challenged Britain's secular imperial agenda and Elizabeth Prevost's work on the Mothers' Union, formed in Britain in 1876 and expanding overseas in period 1900-1930, raise important questions about the development of international Christian communities. Prevost's argument that the Mothers' Union shows 'how the Christian periphery functioned as a site of both the making and the unmaking of British imperial identity' (p. 245) is developed also by John Stuart in the final essay in the volume. Stuart's focus is the crisis brought about the marriage of Seretse Khama, heir to the (Christian) Ngwato kingdom (in modern day Botswana) and an Englishwoman, Ruth Williams, as the LMS and the church in southern Africa were unable to effectively resist the challenge from outside forces, and lost the support of the Bangwato people.
Empires of Religion complicates current understandings of relationships between religion and colonial authority and raises important questions about cultural and religious ideas and practices 'bearing the marks of their imperial origins' (p. 17) and being imbued with new meanings in different cultural contexts.