Creating Religious Childhoods in Anglo-World and British Colonial Contexts


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Hugh Morrison, Mary Clare Martin
Studies in Childhood, 1700 to the Present
  • New York, NY: 
    , November
     336 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Creating Religious Childhoods in Anglo-World and British Colonial Contexts, 1800-1950 attempts to synthesize childhood case studies from numerous points of the British Empire across several centuries. From New Zealand, Fiji, and Australia to India, South Africa, Canada, and the United States, “Anglo-childhood” is examined both as a cultural construct and as a site of religious inquiry. Attention is also given to social exchanges between Anglo and indigenous populations in these imperial contexts. As editors Hugh Morrison and Mary Clare Martin explain their project, “What would happen to our understanding if we placed ‘religion’ at the centre of analysis and discussion on childhood, or indeed, if we placed ‘childhood’ at the centre of analysis and discussion on religion” (7)? 

Edited works often rise or fall according to the degree of synthesis achieved from the sum of their parts. In this regard, Morrison and Martin do an excellent job of tracing the historiography of childhood religion and outlining key questions for further analysis. They also pinpoint broader insights from the chapters than individual authors achieve on their own.

Creating Religious Childhoods is divided into four categories: missionary families; education; literature and discourse; and religious communities. All are important for understanding the history of British missions. Where missional education in many parts of the British Empire fell aside to public funding sources by the turn of the 20th century, religious communities, such as Sunday schools, rose to fill the void. Missionary families, in their attempts to model Christian behavior, often conflated vocational success with their own childrearing. If parenting efforts failed, as Emily Manktelow describes was the case in Tahiti, the entire missionary project was jeopardized.

Histories of childhood have gained popularity in recent years, but the field too often relies on primary source materials published for or about children. But several of the chapters in Creating Religious Childhoods move beyond adult interpretations of 19th- and early 20th-century childhood. Deborah Gaitskell’s chapter on African girlhood in Johannesburg (1907-1940) and Grace Bateman’s work on Catholic and Protestant confirmation experiences in New Zealand (1920s-1950s) are particularly strong in this regard. 

Readers interested in transnational topics, such as adoption, Sunday school movements, and the Boy Scouts will also find chapters helpful to their work. Several essays delve into the Anglo development of child consumerism as found in youth magazines, toys, and Sunday school prizes. Authors also examine the education of children in the service of charitable financial giving and service-based projects within imperial borders.

The legacy of religious childhoods within the British Empire is mixed. While high numbers of Fijians today identify with the Methodism of Anglo missionaries to the islands, the opposite is true in Australia. As Grace Bateman notes, “Focusing on people rather than institutions is vital for illuminating the great deal of complexity, diversity and nuance of meaning that people experienced in popular and official religion” (218). If you believe that childhood represents a formative period of psychological development and a lens through which new experiences and knowledge—religious or otherwise—are filtered, you will want to incorporate essays such as the ones provided in Creating Religious Childhoods into your work.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Joy Schulz is Professor of History at Metropolitan Community College.

Date of Review: 
July 11, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Hugh Morrison is Senior Lecturer in the College of Education at the University of Otago, New Zealand and a research associate in History at the University of Waikato, New Zealand. 

Mary Clare Martin is Principal Lecturer and Research Lead in the Department of Education & Community Studies and Head of the Centre for the Study of Play and at the University of Greenwich, UK.


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