Religious Occupations

Over the past few weeks, one of the things we have been discussing as a team is how to structure data about our borrowers in order to make the eventual search and browse functions as flexible and useful as possible. Our friends at the Libraries, Reading Communities & Cultural Formation in the C18th Atlantic project incredibly kindly shared their thinking with us with regards to recording borrower occupations, and we have adopted their excellent system of identifying an occupational area (e.g. Law; Agriculture; Religion etc) and then subdividing that into different occupations (e.g. Advocate, Writer to the Signet, Clerk of Session; Farmer, Shepherd, Ploughman; Minister, Lay Preacher, Bishop etc). We hope that this will allow for both macro-level analysis of the data, and also for those interested in individual borrowers to find what they need. Thanks to Sophie Jones and Max Skjonsberg for sharing their work in progress with us.

But this process also brought up another important question for us to consider – what should we do about religious or denominational affiliations? Was it enough for us simply to record someone’s occupation as a Minister, or did we need to add in their religious denomination? Given the nature of our libraries (which include four collections specifically for the use of the clergy, as well as university libraries, which, in the period, were used very frequently by students and professors of Divinity) it seemed important to us to reflect denominational differences so that at a later date, we (or others more qualified for the investigation) might be able to determine how far denominational allegiance affected reading tastes and habits.

As nobody on the project team is an expert on the complex religious history of eighteenth-century Scotland, we took advice from colleagues and members of our wonderful advisory board. Particular thanks are due here to Emma Macleod, Kelsey Jackson Williams, Jim Caudle and Neil Keeble. Emma’s masterful summary of the various splits and schisms in Presbyterianism was enormously useful to us. I will never again confuse Burgher and Antiburgher, Old and New Light, the Relief Church and the Free Church, or the Unitarians and the Sandemanians! Scots Church Denominations Flowchart

Following their advice, we have adopted a system that we hope will again allow for maximum flexibility in eventual searching and browsing, and will be categorising our clergymen by religious affiliation as follows:

  • Church of Scotland
  • Presbyterian Seceders
  • Episcopalian
  • Catholic
  • Non-Presbyterian Dissenters

Preliminary analysis of our existing datasets with regards to the question of whether denominational allegiance determines reading habits is potentially suggestive. We have not yet conducted anything approaching a full analysis – indeed we are very far from being able to do so – but early findings suggest more reading across denominational allegiances than within them. Perhaps eighteenth-century clergyman felt the need to know alternative doctrines in order to refute them in their own work? Or perhaps they read as much for the style as the substance, picking up professional tips from particularly well-written sermons even if they were written by those whose beliefs did not exactly match their own. Substantial further research will be needed before we can even begin to hypothesize properly, but we are glad to have had the opportunity to begin to think about the ways in which religious affiliations and reading tastes might intersect.