The Victorian Crisis of Faith in Australian Utopian Literature, 1870-1900

Colloquy 21:41-55 (2011)
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The research behind this paper was motivated by Lyman Tower Sargent’s keynote address on Australian utopian literature, presented at the Demanding the Impossible: Utopia, Dystopia and Science Fiction conference, held at Monash University in 2007. 1 In the printed version of his paper, Sargent notes that the theme of religion “runs throughout Australian utopianism, but with extremely varied content.” 2 This is certainly true of the late Victorian era, when public discussion of issues relating to evolutionary theory and the role of religion in society grew particularly intense. This paper will investigate some of the different treatments of science and religion in Australian utopian literature from 1870 to 1900. I will contend that an examination of this literature supports recent historiography, which contests the problematic science-versus-religion dichotomy that has often been used to characterise the Victorian “crisis of faith.” I will first consider the historical context of the late Victorian era and scholarly trends concerning the relationship between science and religion, before moving on to examine how some Australian utopian authors of the late nineteenth century approached the issues of science, Darwinism, eugenics, secularism, church reform, spiritualism, and agnosticism. Through a brief examination of selected contemporary utopian texts that focus on issues relating to science and religion, I intend to demonstrate the wide range of attitudes and beliefs influencing utopianism in late-nineteenth-century Australia
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