The Culture of Controversy investigates arguments about religion in Scotland from the Restoration to the death of Queen Anne and outlines a new model for thinking about collective disagreement in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century societies. Rejecting teleological concepts of the 'public sphere', the book instead analyses religious debates in terms of a distinctively early modern 'culture of controversy'. This culture was less rational and less urbanised than the public sphere. Traditional means of communication such as preaching and manuscript circulation were more important than newspapers and coffeehouses. As well as verbal forms of discourse, controversial culture was characterised by actions, rituals and gestures. People from all social ranks and all regions of Scotland were involved in religious arguments, but popular participation remained of questionable legitimacy.
Through its detailed and innovative examination of the arguments raging between and within Scotland's main religious groups, the presbyterians and episcopalians, over such issues as Church government, state oaths and nonconformity, The Culture of Controversy reveals hitherto unexamined debates about religious enthusiasm, worship and clerical hypocrisy. It also illustrates the changing nature of the fault line between the presbyterians and episcopalians and contextualises the emerging issues of religious toleration and articulate irreligion. Illuminating the development and character of Scottish Protestantism, The Culture of Controversy proposes new ways of understanding religion and politics in late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century Scotland and will be particularly valuable to all those with an interest in early modern British history.
Alasdair Raffe is Lecturer in History at Northumbria University, Newcastle upon Tyne.