Stimulus Volume 23 Issue 1 - Apr 2016
Table of Contents
Religion as an Historical Lense in Aotearoa (and elsewhere)
The Voice: 3:16
Understanding the Atonement Review Essay
The Dutch historian Pieter Geyl (1887–1966) is famous for his view that “history is argument without end”. This was not the dismissive comment of someone seeking easy answers. Indeed it was the opposite. Geyl, who heroically defended the past against the propaganda of the Nazis, recognised that the complexity and depth of the past meant that historians must wrestle constantly with its interpretation and avoid simplistic approaches. Inevitably, this means they will contest with one another constantly in their efforts to understand. Importantly it is in the very struggle and argument that better picture are likely to emerge.
New Zealand history is as contested a space as Geyl’s Europe. The place of religion in understanding New Zealand’s past has in particular been argued. Key scholars have, in turn, asked of the wider discipline whether religion is accorded a proper place in historical analysis. Ian Breward, Allan Davidson and more recently John Stenhouse have, in their own ways and out of their own interests, attempted to further the debate over the years. This issue of Stimulus continues and explores similar themes.
Angelene Goodman applies a focused test to John Stenhouse’s contention that religion is regularly relegated as a theme in New Zealand historiography. Examining closely a range of works, from specialist studies to general histories, Angelene considers how the historians concerned have dealt with the significance of evangelical influences on Colonial policy at the time of the Treaty of Waitangi. Stuart Lange approaches the theme in a very different way. The recent bi-centenary of Samuel Marsden’s Christmas Day sermon in 1814 – an acknowledged key marker in Christian history in Aotearoa – provides the backdrop. Stuart Lange’s article compares the types of celebration and the prominent themes presented in the 1914 centenary of Marsden’s sermon, with the manner, extent and leading themes of the 2014 events. The comparison provides a window into the changing perceptions of religion in general and Christianity in particular as a third century of witness commences.
My own article attempts to make a broader point. Picking up on significant research and recent publications in British history, I set out to explore the possibilities of history conducted not merely of religious movements and events, but going further, to employ religion as a category for examining the full sweep of human affairs which come under the historian’s gaze. After noting the strange silence on religion in most of a recent extensive history of New Zealand, I endeavour to demonstrate the potential for new insights by considering the religious context of the first decades of the New Zealand Court of Appeal. Religion matters, in law and judicial proceeding, as much as in many other spheres. Hugh Morrison provides another extensive example of this approach at work. By taking the religious lives of children seriously, Hugh uncovers not merely some key developments in Sunday School methods and curricula, but also hitherto underappreciated aspects of our social history. Again, religion matters.
We welcome our usual columnists, with their regular engagement with aspects of their disciplines and with features of popular culture. These and the longer articles provide further evidence of the level of debate and Christian scholarship available in New Zealand. May the argument continue!