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  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: February 2011

2 - Protestant nation to Christian empire, 1801–1908


The history of the planting of Christianity forms an essential part of the history of European empires. Latourette, one of the few historians who has dared to write a complete, scholarly history of Christianity in all its branches, considered that it was not until 1944 (the year he completed his magisterial seven-volume survey) that Christianity began to be a world religion, rather than what he called a ‘colonial or imperial extension, ecclesiastically speaking, of an Occidental faith’. Nevertheless, the imperial phase of the planting of Christianity in the settler colonies of the British empire has tended to be forgotten in recent times. There are nationalist and post-colonial reasons for this. Where British settlers remained a majority force in the population, including Australia, British North America and New Zealand, the churches responded by generating national histories which emphasised autonomous developments and indigenous contributions to post-colonial churches; in regions where the settler population declined or disappeared in sites such as the British Raj, the plantation economies of the West Indies or the mobile occupying force of the British army in India, then the history of the settler churches has more or less been forgotten. However, the churches did not grow spontaneously in the native soil but were transported there with considerable deliberation and intent. This chapter provides a compressed narrative history of British religious settlement throughout the empire in order to provide a background to the particular studies of Christian emigration and the colonial missionary societies of Greater Britain which follow.

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