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Title: The Good Death: Expectations concerning death and the afterlife among Evangelical Nonconformists in England 1830-1880
Author(s): Riso, Mary
Supervisor(s): Bebbington, David William
Keywords: Death
Issue Date: 2013
Publisher: University of Stirling
Abstract: This thesis examines six factors that helped to shape beliefs and expectations about death among evangelical Nonconformists in England from 1830 down to 1880: the literary conventions associated with the denominational magazine obituaries that were used as primary source material, theology, social background, denominational variations, Romanticism and the last words and experiences of the dying. The research is based on an analysis of 1,200 obituaries divided evenly among four evangelical Nonconformist denominations: the Wesleyan Methodists, the Primitive Methodists, the Congregationalists and the Baptists. The study is distinctive in four respects. First, the statistical analysis according to three time periods (the 1830s, 1850s and 1870s), close reading and categorisation of a sample this large are unprecedented and make it possible to observe trends among Nonconformists in mid-nineteenth-century England. Second, it evaluates the literary construct of the obituaries as a four-fold formula consisting of early life, conversion, the living out of the faith and the death narrative as a tool for understanding them as authentic windows into evangelical Nonconformist experience. Third, the study traces two movements that inform the changing Nonconformist experience of death: the social shift towards middle-class respectability and the intellectual shift towards a broader Evangelicalism. Finally, the thesis considers how the varying experiences of the dying person and the observers and recorders of the death provide different perspectives. These features inform the primary argument of the thesis, which is that expectations concerning death and the afterlife among evangelical Nonconformists in England from 1830 down to 1880 changed as reflections of larger shifts in Nonconformity towards middle-class respectability and a broader Evangelicalism. This transformation was found to be clearly revealed when considering the tension in Nonconformist allegiance to both worldly and spiritual matters. While the last words of the dying pointed to a timeless experience that placed hope in the life to come, the obituaries as compiled by the observers of the death and by the obituary authors and editors reflected changing attitudes towards death and the afterlife among nineteenth-century evangelical Nonconformists that looked increasingly to earthly existence for the fulfilment of hopes.
Type: Thesis or Dissertation

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