Abraham Hume (1814-1884). A Forgotten Pioneer in Religious Sociology - article ; n°1 ; vol.33, pg 33-48
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Abraham Hume (1814-1884). A Forgotten Pioneer in Religious Sociology - article ; n°1 ; vol.33, pg 33-48

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Archives des sciences sociales des religions - Année 1972 - Volume 33 - Numéro 1 - Pages 33-48
16 pages
Source : Persée ; Ministère de la jeunesse, de l’éducation nationale et de la recherche, Direction de l’enseignement supérieur, Sous-direction des bibliothèques et de la documentation.



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Publié le 01 janvier 1972
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Henri Desroche
Abraham Hume (1814-1884). A Forgotten Pioneer in Religious
In: Archives des sciences sociales des religions. N. 33, 1972. pp. 33-48.
Citer ce document / Cite this document :
Desroche Henri. Abraham Hume (1814-1884). A Forgotten Pioneer in Religious Sociology. In: Archives des sciences sociales
des religions. N. 33, 1972. pp. 33-48.
doi : 10.3406/assr.1972.1876
http://www.persee.fr/web/revues/home/prescript/article/assr_0003-9659_1972_num_33_1_1876Arch Social des Rei. 33 1972 33-48
ABRAHAM HUME 1814-1884
Forgotten Pioneer in Keligious Sociology
During the nineteenth century several important but isolated attempts were
made to apply statistical techniques to certain aspects of contemporary religious
life The most famous was the Ecclesiastical or Religious Census which was con
ducted in 1851 under the supervision of Horace Mann The government of the day
attempted to establish amongst other things the number of attendances at every
place of worship in England Wales and Scotland on particular Sunday Although
the means of obtaining the information for the survey has been subject to criticism
from the time the experiment was made and despite the fact that doubtful
conclusions were deduced from the results its overall value is considerable
10 13 Subsequent governments refused to repeat the experiment or to include
question on religious affiliation in the decennial censuses In the absence of
such co-operation the Nonconformists took the initiative Their resources were
obviously limited but attempts were made to take attendance censuses especially
ir towns and cities outside London They carried out number of surveys in 1881
as did several provincial newspapers about that time but they failed to use
common criteria in recording attendances more important and concerted effort
came in 1886 through the leadership of Robertson Nicoli who had become editor
of Nonconformist paper the British Weekly Attention was focussed on London
and attendance returns were made for every church and chapel on Sunday
October 24th Shortly afterwards between 1902 and 1903 Mudie-Smith
sponsored by the Daily News undertook series of surveys on church-going also
in London but covering somewhat larger area than that selected by Nicoli by
including the more distant suburbs The results were published by
in The Religious Life of London 1904 The work of Charles Booth which was also
published about this time proved to be disappointing in the matter of religion
Although seven volumes in his great report Life and Labour of the People in London
1902 were the results of tireless investigations about the London churches the
grant from the Research Fund of the University of Newcastle upon Tyne was awarded
to the writer to meet the costs entailed in the research for this paper am grateful to Miss
Gittus Dr McCord and Dr Heeney for having read and commented on the paper
Henceforth numbers which appear within brackets refer to the bibliography or to
the references at the end of the paper
sum total of what was presented was host of personal observations about indi
vidual churches Unlike other surveyors Booth made no attempt to use statistics
and the conclusions about what he and his fellow workers observed were of
subjective kind Since the tum of the century no attempts have been made to
conduct surveys on grand scale
Two factors contributed to Englishmen in the nineteenth century treading
thin but pioneering path in looking statistically at the place of religion in society
The first was the awareness on the part of church leaders of all denominations of
the existence of what might loosely be called secularizing forces which were asso
ciated with the fact that large numbers of growing population were not closely
identified with religious body The Established Church was particularly vulne
rable at this point that people did not attend church meant that it was failing
in its task The introduction of surveys was an attempt to show as accurately as
possible the number of those who attended church in order to demonstrate the
numbers who did not go to church But there was another more sectarian factor
at work While secularization was thought to be proceeding apace the Noncon
formist churches were relatively speaking gaining ground at such rate that in
the period roughly between 1850 and 1900 it was believed that in the matter of
general following they had not only gained level with the Church of England but
had overtaken it The issue which was obviously open to debate could be decided
it was thought and with some justification by the results of surveys and similar
enquiries Hence the enthusiasm of the Nonconformists for the 1851 Religious
Census and other attempts to survey church attendance Those churches which
had resisted the Establishment had for good many decades kept membership
records and were much more at home in the realm of statistics than was the Church
of England which as an established church spurned such operations understan
dably the opposition to the 1851 Census came from inferior clergy as well as
bishops These two factors the general cry We live in heathen society
and the feeling of triumph of Nonconformity are those generally accepted to
be behind the efforts to bring about the 1851 Census and the subsequent surveys
on church attendance
But there was third source of influence which has not been brought to
light before and which in my view is important It is the work and influence of
Abraham Hume who stands out very much on his own lone voice which was
quickly to be forgotten
Since Abraham background and work were rather unusual and are
scarcely known some details of his life are not out of place He was bom in 1814
in the parish of Hillsborough County Down His parents were of Scottish descent
his father was farmer who had seven children his grandfather Presbyterian
minister He attended the Royal Belfast College the university of Glasgow and
graduated from Trinity College Dublin in 1843 At college he distinguished
himself studying English mathematics and divinity He taught mathematics
first in Belfast then in Liverpool where he went in 1841 He was ordained two
years later and continued to teach while working as curate in slum parish
In 1847 he was appointed vicar to the new parish of All Souls Vauxhall near the
centre of Liverpool There was no church building and his income was 150
per annum which was later doubled He remained vicar of the parish for 37 years
until he died in 1884 The parish was situated in what was reckoned to be one of
the toughest and unhealthiest slums of the city probably of the country for in
the Liverpool was estimated to have the worst social conditions of any
city in England 14 By 1923 the parish had been dissolved and today the church
has gone and the area is peppered with warehouses and factories Despite the low
social status of the parish Hume became prominent figure in Liverpool and was
man known nationally That he was person of great ability is shown in part in
that in the course of his life he was given four honorary doctorates Glasgow
Dublin Oxford and Cambridge When he was quite young he became Fellow
of the Society of Antiquaries and later was made Fellow of the Royal Statistical
Society and he was also associated with many other learned societies Yet despite
his achievements he was given no high appointment in the Church He was offered
and turned down another benefice and late in life in 1874 he was made canon of
Chester and in 1880 canon of Liverpool which had become diocese in the same
In short biography and bibliography compiled by J.C Morley in 1887
hundred publications are listed Most of them are occasional papers and pam
phlets many of which were presented to learned societies As man of letters
Hume wrote on vast number of subjects geology archaeology local history
English literature spinning and weaving He even composed poetry It was
period of popular education and to this movement he enthusiastically gave his
support He was to the fore in educational projects in Liverpool and believed
that social reform could only be achieved through education However large
number of his writings were on religion and in particular the state of institutional
religion in his day More than third of his publications might be said to be devoted
to the subject
There can be no doubt that interest and training in mathematics
led him to examine the state of religion through the use of statistics He also
used statistics though with not so much diligence to examine some of the social
evils of his day In the Dictionary of National Biography 1891 it is said of him
He instituted minute statistical enquiries in connection with certain Liverpool
parishes which threw great light on their moral and spiritual condition In the
spirit of the time he saw himself as the mathematician or scientist who wants to
establish the facts and to this end he collected vast quantity of statistics about
the churches and particularly the Church of England in Liverpool the nature of
which had never been previously recorded In 1858-59 he gave evidence be

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