Thursday, February 12, 2015

Research! Ideas!

As I've started to rummage around the scholarly literature bearing on the topic of the Bible in Australia, my own questions have started to flow thick and fast. I've started to get a feel for the kinds of things I'd like to know - and also for the kinds of things that, from the existing secondary literature, aren't so easy to find out. That is, I've begun to see what not there, in the scholarship, as well as what is.

There's no way I'll be able to do much more than dip my toe in the water with this present project, with the limited time and resources at my disposal. But if there's anyone out there who'se looking for a research essay topic / honour thesis project for 2015, there are wonderfully intriguing questions to pursue / gaps to fill / journeys to begin in exploring the bible and its history in Australia. Here's my half-formed wish-list, as it stands today, in case you're in need of some inspiration!

1. Most immediately, I'm dying to know more about the bible and its actual circulation and distribution in Australia.

There are numerous dimensions to this that could do with research, but perhaps the most fun topic for a student to take up is colportage. For a long time, bible societies in Australia and elsewhere hired 'bible colporteurs' who were like travelling merchants, taking bibles door to door for cheap sale to people (often in rural and remote areas). They went by foot, boat, horse, bicycle, car and eventually even plane. The aireal colporteurs in central and northern Australia were known as 'flying biblemen'!

2. I have also been inspired by Timothy Larsen's 'The Bible and the Victorians' to consider how some of Australia's more vocal agnostics, freethinkers and atheists have made use of the bible in putting forward their views.

At the Mitchell Library last week, I read numerous pamphlets written in Melbourne during the last third of the C19th by Henry Keylock Rusden, a clergyman's son, who was about as anti-Christianity as Dawkins in our own time, and yet preoccupied with issues to do with the authority and interpretation of scripture! There are no doubt others like him, if anyone out there is inclined to go looking.
3. And then I have whole host of questions around each of my particular chapter themes (huge in themselves) - like the bible and Australian politics.

To give just one example of the kind of reserch that would be beneficial in this particular field, - how (and how much) has the bible has cropped up in parliamentary debates on such issues as the regulation of alcohol, the age of consent, sunday trading laws, the treatment of asylum seekers, the grounds for divorce, age pensions and other social service benefits, definitions of the family / marriage... even things like federation, white Australia, multiculturalism? There are focussed studies of the bible's place in US political discourse (I also read one, over the summer, on the bible's place in the rhetoric of late C19th Canadian nationalism) - but there seems to be a real dearth of comparable studies here.

So: any takers? If you're doing primary research on any aspect of the bible and its history in Australia I'd love to hear from you!

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