The Victoria Institute 1865-1932: A Case Study in the Relationship between Science and Religion

  • Stuart Mathieson

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis investigates the Victoria Institute, the world’s first explicitly anti-evolutionary organisation, formed in London in 1865. It covers the period between 1865 and 1932, from the Victoria Institute’s formation, through its most productive and successful period, and its subsequent decline after 1918.

It is divided into three sections. The first contains two chapters that provide important contextual information. Chapter One introduces the Victoria Institute, charting its early operation, analysing its objectives, explaining how it fits into the wider pattern of a contest of cultural authority, and identifying its role as a safe haven for those who felt increasingly unwelcome in the secularising scientific arena. Chapter Two reports the results of a detailed longitudinal study of the Victoria Institute’s membership, which provides vital demographic material, such as the location, occupation, education, and religious denomination of members.

The second section contains four chapters, thematically arranged, on the Victoria Institute’s heyday between 1871 and 1913. Chapter Three investigates the general understanding of the relationship between science and religion. It examines the contested definition of science, explores attempts to find both conflict and harmony between science and religion, and explains how one traditional understanding of that relationship, natural theology, survived into the twentieth century. Chapter Four looks at a contested set of definitions, particularly ‘evolution’ and ‘Darwinism’, and demonstrates how Darwinism served as a synecdoche for broader cultural trends. Chapter Five examines the Victoria Institute’s fascination with geology and its relationship to scientific epistemology. Chapter Six turns to the Victoria Institute arguing for religious belief based on evidence from geography and archaeology, which it considered as scientific as biology, and explains how this fits into the Victoria Institute’s philosophical commitments.

The final section covers the Victoria Institute’s decline, highlighting the impact of the First World War, and discusses the social and cultural factors that separated British conservative evangelicalism from American fundamentalism.
Date of AwardSep 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorAndrew Holmes (Supervisor) & Diarmid Finnegan (Supervisor)

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