How love is valued and demonstrated amongst religious families of Old Dissent in England, 1780-1850
In my PhD, I explore religious identity and the distinctive experience of parents and couples in four 'old dissenting' denominations: Congregationalists, Baptists, Unitarians and Quakers. By focusing upon love within families I consider how it was impelled by and contributed to religious identities. Love for God and love for family members was intrinsically connected, and manifsted by other feelings. These 'other feelings' offered assurance that love existed. These Old Dissenters were impacted by the residue of Enlightenment, idealism of Romanticism. On the heels of evangelical revivals, these groups were privy to many of the tensions which developed within this movement - even the 'rational dissenting' Unitarians. While much evidence demonstrates a desire to maintain the 'status quo' throughout these groups, exceptions do apply as they all assimilate cultural norms and apply them according to their own denominational, church and family structures and values. The desire for a superlative love of God predominates. Love is understod through its feelings and associated duties. Conceptions of the relationship with God impact the vision for the 'earthly family'. Agency is an important feature for both men and women as they subscribe to norms which assure love - for both God and family members. This love, as noted, is manifested in diverse feelings such as: belonging, desire, fear, pain, happiness, nostalgia and hope.
My educational background includes history, archiving and librarianship, family studies, and theology
BA Family Studies & Theology (2009) Cornerstone University
MSc Library Science & Archiving (2012) Clarion University
MA Historical Research (2017) University of Roehampton
'Earthly' love vs. 'Godly' love - gendered notions of love and duty within dissenting marriages, 1780-1850. Presented at the RHUL PG Seminar, 15 January 2019.
- Love of 'earthly objects' was a significant issue found in the personal papers of dissenting individuals in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It was expected that the superlative nature of love was reserved for God, and all 'earthly objects' - including people - were entitled to a lesser version. This manifested itself in a tension between loving God and loving one's spouse - especially in ministerial marriages. A two-fold paradoxical emphasis of evangelicalism included the importance of spreading the gospel (evangelism) and the salience of the home. This often resulted in gendered tensions, wherein 'separate spheres' was the expected norm for women who married ministerial husbands - even women who were involved in ministry themselves. Some exceptions do occur but a general expectation is, nonetheless, apparent. Husbands often wrote to their wives indicating how painful it was to be far from them, but caveated this with belief that they must prioritise their love for and service to God over these longings to be near their ‘earthly’ loved ones. For women, the priority of their love for God was often expressed through supporting their travelling husbands through moral support (writing letters often) and maintaining the home in their absence. Interestingly, it was the women who often expressed the most consternation about the wisdom of marriage while they were considering a partner – perhaps because it would shift their primary responsibility from serving God in the church/other philanthropic efforts to the service in the home. Thus, while 'separate spheres' cannot possibly be a lens through which to view all marriages in the 18th and 19th centuries, it is apparent that this theory still holds some relevance, at least where it concerns expectations of the evangelical-influenced ministerial families of Old Dissent.
'Earthly' love vs. 'Godly' love - gendered notions of love and duty within dissenting marriages, 1780-1850. Presented at 'Constructions of Love and the Emotions of Intimacy' conference University of Warwick, 9 February 2019.
When spiritual calling takes precedence: women who defy institutional expectations within Old Dissent, 1780-1850. Presented at the Annual Summer Conference, Ecclesiastical Historical Society in Durham, 17 July 2019.
- The late 18th century saw an increasing tension between the importance of ministry vs. domesticity in evangelicalism. Evangelical dissenting women who married could expect that their primary means of loving and serving God would be within the home. However, the space between these two aims was negotiated with one ultimate priority in mind – the will of God. Women (and their husbands) were willing to ‘subvert’ these norms by relying upon God’s will to direct them. While women in these situations often expressed concern over neglecting the domestic sphere (institutional expectations) they felt justified if they believed it was God’s will (Spirit-led inspiration). This paper evaluates women who proved an exception to this norm by ‘subverting’ institutional expectations as they were led by the Spirit. These examples inspire historians to consider the value of agency often defined by subversion. However, while this religious agency may appear to be subversion, it was actually a form of submission - to God’s calling for their lives.
'Nothing like home' - the female duty to foreshadow eternal joy in the 18th and 19th century home. Presented at the 'Gender Religion and Power' conference, The Bedford Centre, Royal Holloway, 21 September 2019.
- Nineteenth century prescriptive literature elevates the role of women in maintaining a sacred, unworldly home for her husband and children to find solace. Epitomized in the ‘Angel in the House’ motif first incepted by Patmore’s poem, women’s duty to cultivate this idyllic scenario was significant. This paper evaluates personal papers of Nonconformists in the late 18th and early 19th centuries to examine why this ideal was so significant. Prescriptive ideals like these are often challenged for many reasons, one of which being the obvious improbability of any household holding to them perfectly. This paper suggests that the reason why these ideals were significant, and likewise why the dissonance with prescriptive literature is tolerated, is because this idyllic space was a foreshadow of the eternal home – where ideals would be fulfilled perfectly.
A “feeling in your soul”: The happy feelings of love in the marriages of Old Dissent, 1780-1850. Presented at the Modern Religious History seminar at IHR on 20th November 2019.
'True Religion' for the Manchester Unitarians: the centrepiece of religious identity for Rational Dissenters, 1780-1850. Presented at the 'Faith in our Town' workshop, University of Manchester, 17 January 2020.
- In an era of increasing urbanisation and (arguably) rising secularisation contrasted with growing evangelicalism, Unitarians were often viewed anomalously as they tended to embrace secularism more overtly than mainstream religiosity. 'True religion' was commonplace amongst evangelical vernacular in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, often denoting a combination of two things: extensive loving feelings towards God which accompanied conversion and compelled radical life changes & a stricter adherence to orthodoxy, particularly as it pertained to the gospel and atonement. Unitarians rejected these two principles, redefining 'true religion' as connected to obedience and virtuous living. While feelings and beliefs were important to Unitarians, they did not take centrestage as they did for evangelicals; instead, this space was reserved for trust - trusting that the Spirit would guide their minds towards right convictions, trusting that God would reward a virtuous life of obedience. Rational Dissenters, as Unitarians were called, may have appeared religiously austere, and even predominantly secular - but their embrace of 'true religion' demonstrates the important place of religiosity in their identity. Using personal papers and sermons of three predominant Unitarian families in Manchester (the Robberds, the Taylers, and the Nicholsons) this paper will consider how these Unitarians manifested their version of 'true religion' amongst their church and family relationships.
Pain as a spiritual barometer of health: a sign of divine love, 1780-1850. Presented at the EHS Conference 'The Church in Sickness and in Health', January 2021.
The Inner Light & Belonging: Female Ministers in the 19th century. Presented at the 'Conference on Gendered Charismas' with University of Heidelberg, March 2021.
- The propriety of women in ministerial positions was a controversial debate within the 19th century churches (and, indeed, a debate which continues today). In 1824, Joseph John Gurney - a renowned ‘evangelical Quaker’ - justified women’s position in ministry in his seminal systematic theology, which he attributed to the authority of the Holy Spirit to act in whomsoever he chooses. For Gurney, and other Quakers, gender should not factor into ministerial calling. Ministerial belonging was facilitated by the Inner Light. Conversely, another significant space of ‘belonging’ in women’s lives in this era was found in the domestic sphere. The reality of separate spheres ideology has been debated by historians. While women arguably found significant opportunities within the church they, likewise, were not untouched by its domestic expectations. Two women who faced this tension were the Quakers Elizabeth Fry and Anna Braithwaite. Both women enjoyed significant involvement in the Quaker ministry and left an enduring legacy. Both women left profound theological and social impacts in their communities. Both women enjoyed extensive family life. Both women sought to navigate the domestic and ministerial spaces with their concerns regarding belonging. Such questions were, often, resolved with the Inner Light. Viewing their decisions through the Inner Light empowered women, and offered a safe space to exercise female charisma, while not sacrificing their belonging in domestic spaces.
Emotions and Assurance: examples from 19th century Dissent. Presented at WBC, 07 December 2018.
- A brief look at evangelical emotions and assurance in the 19th century Quakers, Baptists and Congregationalists - and to consider how this subject should be considered regarding faith and religiosity today.
Religious Liberty and the Lord's Supper. Presented at WBC, 02 March 2019.
- Examining the connection between religious liberty and the Lord's Supper in the early 19th century - through the efforts of the Repeal of Test and Corporation Acts and Catholic Emancipation - to consider how religious liberty applies today.
Brotherly Love as Unity and Division: Membership at Romney Street Baptist in the 19th Century. Presented at WBC, 29 June 2019.
- Examined how love manifested as both unity (especially influencedd by 19th century evangelicalism) and division (as it sought to ensure strict adherence to piety and doctrines). This is uncovered in the church minute book for 19th century membership meetings.
The history of the novel : reading as subversion from its inception to today. Presented at CILIP Conference 2019, 2 July 2019.
- The novel first arose in prominence in the 18th century, in a society which was growing increasingly sentimental; companionship with children and between spouses gained significance. Novel reading grew in this society in Britain. Much could be said about the early novel, which undoubtedly intended to instruct and teach and to offer a lengthier version of the long-held human tradition of telling stories. What is incredibly interesting about the novel is its connection to subversion – it was a ‘dangerous’ occupation for women in the early 19C, a chance for escape in the fin de siècle, and offers ample opportunity for us to consider subversion today. Novel reading offered a channel to subvert realities – to find comfort in characters who share seemingly isolated troubles, to challenge incumbent world views. These stories which encourage readers to challenge current structures they disagree with and consider how to expand those within which they identify. This short presentation gives a brief history of the early novel, noting how individuals have practiced ‘subversion’ (challenged their own and others’ understanding of the world), and how it still applies today.
Other speaking engagements
How a strong online presence can aid impact and engagement: A brief look at three projects, Presented at EHSS Research Festival, St Mary's University, 2 June 2020.
- Impact and engagement is an omnipresent ‘task’ which lurks in the background of academic progress. As research has demonstrated, it has often been considered a laborious add-on and is not always eagerly anticipated. Through looking at three projects I will demonstrate how impact and engagement can be tolerable and, dare I say, even fun through developing a diverse online presence: ‘The Citizens Project’ which provides public history (aimed at school and the general public), ‘Research Tips’ which offers academic writing support for postgraduates, and ‘IPS Archives’ (a school archive).
Blogs & Media
The value of religion in women's history; 3 part blog post with The Bedford Centre, March 2019 https://bedfordcentre.wordpress.com/2019/03/16/religion-in-womens-history-part-1-identities/
Religion and the origins of the Labour Movement; public history video with The Citizens Project, September 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VNLPEI65zLo&t=82s
What role did women play in Charitsm?' public history video with The Citizens Project, July 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=avEsCIgDg00&t=89s
Catholic Emancipation; blog post with Citizens Project, September 2019 https://www.citizens800.org/2019/09/06/catholic-emancipation/
The Beeton Ideal: excerpts from my research on gender, family, and dissent