The role of evangelical religion in the social history of the English working class has been an area of both bewildering theories and un-founded generalizations. The problem, of course, was given a degree of notoriety by Elie Halévy who, according to the received interpretation, claimed that the revolutionary fervor characteristic of the Continental working class in the first half of the nineteenth century was drained from its British counterpart because of the latter's acceptance of Evangelicalism, namely, Methodism.
It was revived most notably by E. P. Thompson, who accepted the counterrevolutionary effect of Methodism but claimed that the evangelical message was really an agent of capitalist domination acting to subordinate the industrial working class to the dominion of factory time and work discipline. Furthermore, Thompson argued, the English working class only accepted Methodism reluctantly and in the aftermath of actual political defeats that marked their social and economic subordination to capital. This view has gained a wide acceptance among many of the most prominent labor historians, including E. J. Hobsbawm and George Rudé who believe that Evangelicalism was the working-class's “chiliasm of despair” that “offered the one-time labour militant … compensation for temporal defeats.”
There could hardly be a starker contrast between the interpretation of these labor historians and the views of those who have examined the social and political history of religion in early industrial Britain. Among the most important of these, W. R. Ward has claimed that Methodism was popular among the laboring classes of the early nineteenth century precisely because it complemented political radicalism.