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Appears in Collections:History and Politics Journal Articles
Peer Review Status: Refereed
Title: The Mid-Victorian Revolution in Wesleyan Methodist Home Mission (Forthcoming/Available Online)
Author(s): Bebbington, David William
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Issue Date: 16-Jan-2018
Citation: Bebbington DW (2018) The Mid-Victorian Revolution in Wesleyan Methodist Home Mission (Forthcoming/Available Online), Journal of Ecclesiastical History.
Abstract: First paragraph: The prevailing view of Victorian Methodism is unfavourable. Wesleyan Methodism, the second largest Protestant denomination in the United Kingdom, is thought to have played its part in the weakening of Christianity. Methodism, on the received narrative, remained down to around 1840 a vigorous movement, gathering in the working people of industrialising Britain. From that point, however, its onward progress in its predominant Wesleyan form was arrested by the rise of respectability, the dominance of rich laymen and the authoritarianism of its leadership under Jabez Bunting. The book that did most to establish this perspective was Kenneth Inglis’ Churches and the Working Classes in Victorian England (1963). Inglis argued that, as cities burgeoned in the later nineteenth century, all the churches failed to adopt an effective way of reaching the mass of the population, but he took the Wesleyans as a prime example of a denomination that was beginning to succumb to the onset of secularisation. Twenty years later, in A History of the Methodist Church in Great Britain, Henry Rack, though offering some qualifications, accepted the broad lines of Inglis’ interpretation. Figures that he cited seemed to confirm the analysis by showing that, although membership was rising in the Victorian era, population growth was outstripping it. Whereas in 1851 the proportion of the population in Wesleyan membership was 1.4 per cent, by 1901 it had dropped to 1.2 per cent. More recently, however, historians have shown that secularisation made far smaller inroads in the society of the later nineteenth century than had previously been supposed. In particular Callum Brown has contended that British values were shaped by Evangelical Christianity throughout the nineteenth century and long afterwards. Far from being largely absent from worship, as Inglis proposed, the working classes flocked to church in the mid-Victorian years. Brown, who draws on the work of Clive Field on Methodism, has pointed out that the working classes formed a majority of most Victorian congregations. The pessimism of Inglis appears exaggerated or even misplaced. It is generally acknowledged that a more optimistic estimate of the success of the churches is in order.
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Rights: This article has been accepted for publication in Journal of Ecclesiastical History. This version is free to view and download for private research and study only. Not for re-distribution, re-sale or use in derivative works. © Cambridge University Press 2017

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