This is an interesting collection of scholarly articles on the history of Christianity in New Zealand. I think it will be of interest primarily to scholars in the field, but also to those concerned about the apparent decline in religious observance and practice amongst Christians. It’s the work of lecturers and scholars in religious studies at particular universities and bible colleges in New Zealand. There is only one woman in the mix.
I detected a little bit of historical defensiveness, particularly in the chapters on Christian beginnings amongst Maori, and the one on William Pember Reeves. However that serves to make the reader think and consider the work of our major historians.
Various other chapters address the sectarian rivalry of the military chaplaincy during the First World War; the work of two novelists who wrote passionately and from a deeply-held belief in God, but whose works are now largely forgotten. The writer, Kirstine Moffat, comments at the end of her piece “We may not share …(their) beliefs…….but their refusal to settle for the status quo epitomizes and energy and a utopian striving that is admirable”. Perhaps the increasing secularisation and permissiveness of society at large is not necessarily a good thing, but that’s for each reader to decide.
Peter Lineham’s piece on the interweaving of culture and religion surround Christmas observance will be of interest to many readers, as it draws together the various practices which surround Christmas and gives their history – much of it not in the least Christian in origin!
Overall, I think this is a useful addition to work on spirituality and religion in New Zealand. It draws together essays which might not otherwise be easily available to the lay person. I would be very interested to see similar writing on the history and development of observance in other religions in New Zealand.
Reviewed by Sue Esterman
Sacred Histories in Secular New Zealand
ed. Geoffrey Troughton and Stuart Lange
Published by VUP