Publication Details

Melleuish, G. C. (2014). A Secular Australia? Ideas, politics and the search for moral order in nineteenth and early twentieth century Australia. Journal of Religious History, 38 (3), 398-412.


This article argues that the relationship between the religious and the secular in Australia is complex and that there has been no simple transition from a religious society to a secular one. It argues that the emergence of apparently secular moral orders in the second half of the nineteenth century involved what Steven D. Smith has termed the 'smuggling in' of ideas and beliefs which are religious in nature. This can be seen clearly in the economic debates of the second half of the nineteenth century in Australia in which a Free Trade based on an optimistic natural theology battled with a faith in Protection which had powerful roots in a secular form of Calvinism espoused by David Syme. The article concludes with an analysis of twentieth-century historian W. K. Hancock's comparison of the medieval commonwealth and Machiavelli, concluding that Hancock found both the Free Trade and the Protectionist visions of moral order to be inadequate.



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