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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ABSTRACT OF THESIS 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