Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Faculty of Law, Humanities and the Arts


This thesis examines Australian debates over the legalisation of cremation in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; the liberalisation of Sabbatarianism or Sunday entertainment in the 1960s; and the legalisation of ‘no fault’ divorce in 1975. In doing so it argues that from the late nineteenth century, through to the 1970s, there were a series of legal changes regarding social practices in Australian society. While each of these social practices had Christian roots the thesis argues that in each of the parliamentary debates, religious arguments could not ultimately convince the parliamentarians to preserve the laws. Instead religious appeals and arguments lost to practical utilitarian secular concerns and arguments in the twentieth century.

The three case studies are explored through discourse analysis, an examination of rhetoric, and the use of some statistics. These methodologies allow the analysis of Hansard (the record of Australian parliamentary debates), and for the various arguments and discourses to be categorised and examined. The thesis is informed by the theoretical works of Callum Brown and Danièle Hervieu-Léger, but also S. J. D. Green and Grace Davie. Brown’s theory highlights the complex nature of secularisation, while Hervieu-Léger’s work highlights the use of history and memory for continued social practice by claiming a connection to an imagined historical community. No methodology or theory is however perfect. Limitations in the thesis are the heavy reliance on Hansard as a primary source, and the fact that most of the theory concerns societies other than Australia. Such reliance can cause contextual issues. The Annales historical school provides justification for these methodologies and theories utilised by showing that similar work is possible and has been done.

This thesis is unavailable until Sunday, February 10, 2019