Methodists and Revivalism in South Australia, 1838-1939: The Quest for 'Vital Religion'

Author: Brian Chalmers

Chalmers, Brian, 2016 Methodists and Revivalism in South Australia, 1838-1939: The Quest for 'Vital Religion', Flinders University, School of Humanities and Creative Arts

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In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Methodism was the most

vigorous religious group in South Australia with the largest body of regular church

attenders and Sunday school enrolments. A handful of Methodists were present at the

commencement of the colony in 1836. By 1900, self-described Methodists

comprised 25 per cent of the state’s population, and hovered around the same figure

through to 1939. This thesis explores the contribution of revivalism to conversionary

growth and institutional expansion in the period from 1838, with the first recorded

religious revival, to 1939. It results from a conviction that the study of revivalism

within Methodism has received too little attention from historians. It is argued in this

thesis that revivalism provided the Methodist churches with an effective

methodology for conversionary growth in the quest for ‘vital religion’ – a religion of

the heart.

This study includes a chronology of recorded revival activities. Collation of the

evidence has depended in large part on Steve Latham’s taxonomy of revival. His six

distinguishing forms of revival events provided the methodological framework for

arranging and categorising the relevant information. The narrative includes a

selective utilisation of both statistics and topics relevant to the argument. In addition,

an ‘Annual Conversion Index’ locates each revival within its denominational context,

while an examination of the number of reported conversions against membership

data also enables an assessment of the contribution of revivalism to denominational

growth. The main sources for reported conversions, membership, and narrative

information were denominational periodicals and church statistics.

Part One examines the place of revivalism in the initial colonial period from 1838

to 1865, with particular reference to the foundational elements within South

Australian Methodism which aided revivalism. Part Two covers the period from

1866 to 1913. This examines the contribution of specialist revivalists of international

or Australian origin who conducted large-scale missions in Adelaide alongside the

revivals that occurred in rural and suburban Methodist circuits as the result of local

evangelistic preaching. Part Three, from 1914 to 1939, examines how traditional

revivalism adapted to various challenges, both intellectual and internal. There was

diminished revival activity in the inter-war period. The thesis demonstrates that

revivalism was far more extensive than previously thought, and was a very

significant factor in the numerical growth of South Australian Methodism during the

period studied.

Keywords: Methodism, Methodists, Methodist, Vital Religion, Revival, Revivals, Revivalism, South Australian Methodist revivals

Subject: Theology thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2016
School: School of Humanities and Creative Arts
Supervisor: Dr Josephine Laffin