Hume, Bishop Butler, and the Revival of Ritual in Anglophone Protestantism

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A sweeping reassessment of the role of ritual, ceremony, and aesthetics took place in anglophone Protestantism between the late eighteenth and the late nineteenth centuries. While the nineteenth-century developments themselves have been extensively studied, little scholarly attention has been paid to the importance of the earlier emergence of philosophical language capable of explaining and justifying, in a Protestant context, the ritual and aesthetic dimensions of religious practice. I argue that this language, paradoxically, grew out of a symbiosis of sceptical modernity, traditional religious apologetics, and the religious “enthusiasm” of the early eighteenth century. I approach the topic through the interconnected oeuvres (and careers) of David Hume and Joseph Butler, presenting the first synoptic account of their ideas about the psychological underpinnings of religious worship, and the use made of their ideas by later generations of anglophone Protestants. As mainstream Anglicans, Episcopalians, and Presbyterians confronted the challenges presented by Methodism and Evangelicalism, they found support in a synthesis of Butler’s and Hume’s ideas. Eventually, the beneficial role of ritual and aesthetics in religious worship came to be widely accepted throughout the anglophone Protestant world.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)390-409
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Religious History
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Religious studies


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