Book Review: The Spirit of the Past: Essays on Christianity in New Zealand History; New Zealand Jesus: Social and Religious Transformations of an Image, 1890-1940

By Lenz, Darin D. | Church History, March 2014 | Go to article overview

Book Review: The Spirit of the Past: Essays on Christianity in New Zealand History; New Zealand Jesus: Social and Religious Transformations of an Image, 1890-1940


Lenz, Darin D., Church History


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The Spirit of the Past: Essays on Christianity in New Zealand History . Edited by Geoffrey Troughton and Hugh Morrison . Wellington : Victoria University Press , 2011. 256 pp. $50.00 paper.

New Zealand Jesus: Social and Religious Transformations of an Image, 1890-1940 . By Geoffrey Troughton . Bern, Switzerland : Peter Lang AG , 2011. 268 pp. $78.95 paper.

Book Reviews and Notes

Arguing for the inclusion of Christianity in the broad sweep of national historical writing has been an ongoing challenge that religious historians have undertaken in recent decades with varying degrees of success. Certainly in North America the work of historians studying Christianity has yielded tremendous results that have altered the historiography, though they have not always influenced popular perceptions about the role of religious faith in the nation's history. Within the context of Aoteroa, New Zealand, historians have traditionally shied away from dealing with Christianity as part of the national story. This neglect, whether conscious or not, resulted in historian Ian Breward arguing in the late 1970s for the inclusion of religion as part of the broader historical narrative of the nation, which influenced historical writing for the next two decades. Since 2001 there has been a renewed interest in religious history and The Spirit of the Past is one fruit of that new era of scholarship. Comprised of essays that were presented at the Religious History Association of Aoteroa, New Zealand (RHAANZ) conferences since 2005, the volume illustrates the assorted topics and methodologies that religious historians have taken in recent years to examine and analyze Christianity as part of the nation's history.

Although the writers of New Zealand's history may have neglected the role of Christianity, religious faith was never far from the public consciousness. Historians Peter Lineham and John Stenhouse, in their two outstanding contributions to the volume, reflect on the debate about the place of religion in New Zealand's history that has, at times, escaped the walls of academia and spilled over into the public square. Essays dealing with popular religion, Roman Catholic women's congregations, missionary work among the MÄori, women evangelists, the temperance movement, church as a site of romance, and the issue of mixed-religious marriages, show that Christianity mattered in the everyday lives of ordinary New Zealanders. What also becomes clear is that religion in the history of New Zealand has been deeply influenced by transnational exchanges, primarily among English-speaking peoples, that brought a myriad of voices into the everyday lives of New Zealanders. Although the connection between British imperialism and Christian missions to the MÄori may cast a large shadow over the nation, this complicated issue does not dominate the volume but rather is included as part of the map of the religious history of this multicultural nation. In fact, the concluding essay in the volume provides tremendous insight into how the recovery of this troubled missionary past is still vitally important in the present. The final essay provides an account of the 2007 discovery of a missionary station cemetery on the grounds of the Tolaga Bay Area School that contained the remains of Christian MÄori who had died, most likely of illness, in the mid-nineteenth century. The essay deftly shows how forgotten places, events, and people are crucial to making sense of New Zealand's complex past, especially since no one remembered this important piece of local religious history. This last account marks out a middle ground between divisive cultural politics and the tragedy of forgetting to show that neither of these options is useful for understanding New Zealand's history. In sum, the story of the lost graveyard illustrates the contribution that the essays in this volume make to the ongoing search for New Zealand's Christian past and why remembering that heritage is important for the country today. …

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