"... but in its proper place. ."Religion, Enlightenment, and Australia's Secular Heritage

the Case of Robert Lowe in Colonial NSW 1842-1850

Stephen Chavura*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Over the last few decades historians have been rediscovering Australia's religious heritage, often in response to entrenched narratives depicting Australia's social, intellectual, and political history as a triumph of secular enlightenment over vestiges of Old World partnerships of religion, state, and society. That Australia has a rich secular heritage is indisputable, but to draw a sharp distinction between the "secular" and the "religious" is anachronistic and misguided, and any attempt to tell the story of Australia's secular heritage must acknowledge that the "secular" often found its justification flowing from more general religious premises grounded in enlightenment ideals such as rational religion, rational piety, and general Christianity. Indeed, when liberal democracy was emerging in the colonies the "secular" had to be justified in terms acceptable to the public square and these terms were broadly religious. Robert Lowe is an apt case study for divining the nature of the secular in colonial Australia, for his thought and political activity show the subtle and complex way that ideals such as "enlightenment," "religion," and "secular" entered into dialogue rather than warfare with one another and contributed to social institutions judged suitable for a fledgling pluralist nation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)356–376
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Religious History
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2014
Externally publishedYes

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