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The Religious Background to Factory Reform

Evangelical Anglicanism was as strong in the campaign for factory reform as it was in the campaign for the abolition of slavery. In the Eighteenth Century the Church of England (the Anglican Church) had become very lax, complacent and conservative. It was an integral part of the Establishment. Both Church and parliament were dominated by the same socio-economic class: the landed gentry and aristocracy. Defence of the status quo was prevalent and the ruling classes did not contemplate reform in any shape or form. Religion was comfortable and respectable. The Anglican Church ministered to the gentry in a form of what might be called 'snob Christianity'. Most people's interest in religion was generally academic and pragmatic. 'Enthusiasm' was considered to be dangerous - a left-over from the English Civil War (1642-9) and the Wars of Religion in Europe in the Seventeenth Century.

Methodism was regarded by Anglicans as 'ecclesiastical Jacobinism'. Methodism had come into existence thanks to the work of John and Charles Wesley and George Whitfield in the 1730s and 1740s. The movement split from the Church of England only in 1795. Methodism made religion democratic and it appealed to the poor and to workers in the industrial areas. The Methodists took religion to the people in the form of open-air meetings. As the Methodist movement grew, to the Church of England realised that its membership was in danger.

After the French Wars (1792-1815) the Anglican Church realised that it had to become more democratic in order to maintain its position (as did the State). This revival movement is known as the Evangelical movement: the aristocracy tried to justify their social and religious privilege through 'good works' and missionary zeal. This is particularly clear in the case of Richard Oastler and the Earl of Shaftesbury.

see the Glossary for explanations of various theological terms.

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Last modified 4 March, 2016

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