Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Religious Belief and Popular Culture in Southwark C. 1880-1939

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Religious Belief and Popular Culture in Southwark C. 1880-1939

Article excerpt

S. C. WILLIAMS. Religious Belief and Popular Culture in Southwark c. 1880-1939. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999. Pp. x + 206, appendix, bibliography, index. $70.00.

S. C. Williams has written an engaging and important book about working class religiosity in London that challenges the secularization thesis. This thesis holds that from about the mid-nineteenth century British society began to display clearly a move away from institutionalized, organized religion. This move, spurred by a corpus of reasons, illustrated Victorian society's gradual rejection of conventional religious norms and forms, and their replacement by the "liberal" principles encompassed by statism and science. Essential to the secularization thesis (as expounded by Jeffrey Cox, A. D. Gilbert, Patrick Joyce, et al.) is the equating of conventional churchgoing and confessional practices and institutional health with individual religiosity. Once these public indices of religiosity fell into decline, then, the secularization theorists contend, so too did religious belief. Williams, however, in measured, lively and well-documented prose, rejects this argument in favor of the manifest resilience of religious belief as a form of popular culture.

"Formal outward signs," Williams suggests, are merely the tip of the iceberg as far as individual religiosity is concerned. Seeing them as explanatory of religious life is simplistic, as she discovers in Southwark, the working class London borough that she has chosen to study intensively. Williams relies heavily on oral history. Therefore, her study is replete with the grit of history, the stuff of personal experience, that defies the conventional wisdom on the assumed pervasiveness of alienation and irreligion amongst the fin-de-siècle working classes. …

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