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Pantheism and Science in Victorian Britain

Shi, Jincheng (2018) Pantheism and Science in Victorian Britain. PhD thesis, University of Leeds.

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Abstract

In discussing the relationship between science and religion during the Victorian period, historians have paid much attention to Christian monotheism, deism, spiritualism, materialism, agnosticism, and atheism; however, pantheism has received little attention. Yet the Victorians published thousands of discussions of pantheism, which shows that pantheism was a significant religious position in the Victorian ferment of faith. Through exploring these writings, this dissertation shows that there was considerable interest in pantheism among Victorian thinkers concerning the viability of pantheism and its relationship with science. The first two chapters present a general account of pantheism in Victorian Britain, with eight Victorian advocates of pantheism being identified and their lives and philosophies being introduced. These people are John Hunt, Alfred Barratt, James Martineau, Thomas Elford Poynting, James Hinton, James Allanson Picton, Charles Bray, and Constance Plumptre. As science became the dominant intellectual authority in Victorian Britain, many Victorian religious thinkers made use of it in support of their religious doctrines. The next three chapters show that advocates of pantheism likewise drew heavily on contemporary scientific theories in advancing and defending their pantheistic views of God, the world, humans, ethics, science and religion, and the future of religion. They were strongly attracted to theories that implied a unified and creative universe, such as the correlation of forces, the idea of living matter, and the evolutionary theory of life. Scientific practitioners John Tyndall and Thomas Huxley and evolutionary philosopher Herbert Spencer were their most popular scientific sources. In consequence of pantheistic uses of science, these writers and their theories were sometimes criticised for being pantheistic, and pantheism was often treated as a science-related threat by Christian critics. This dissertation demonstrates that pantheism was more widely accepted in Victorian Britain than has been previously recognised and that pantheistic thinkers drew extensively on science.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Pantheism, Science, Victorian Britain
Academic Units: The University of Leeds > Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures (Leeds) > School of Philosophy, Religion and the History of Science
Identification Number/EthosID: uk.bl.ethos.766390
Depositing User: Jincheng Shi
Date Deposited: 29 Jan 2019 12:34
Last Modified: 11 Mar 2020 10:53
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/22390

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