Theological and Ethics Writings of Frances Power Cobbe (1822-1904)

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Frances Power Cobbe is best known to scholars of 19th century Britain for her participation in such causes as workhouse reform, education for poor children, women’s rights, and anti-vivisection. Her social activism was founded on strongly-held religious beliefs and she wrote prolifically on religion for fifty years. This book examines Cobbe’s writings on religion, ethics, and morality, and traces the development of her thought over the course of her life. Cobbe’s Theism, critique of Christianity, and her interest in the tension between science and religion moved her from the safe Victorian female realm of devotion and piety to the contentious male realm of philosophical exchange. Her voluminous writings offer a valuable case study for the intersection of women’s history, the history of religion, and intellectual history.


“... a major contribution to Victorian intellectual history especially its religious dimension ... Peacock is an excellent writer whose work is based on original and thorough research. She made Cobb ‘come alive’ for me ... the themes of her writings are absolutely current. Today the science/faith dialogue continues as well as the issues of anti-evangelicalism, anti-clericalism, and the question of the immortality of the soul ... will be read widely by scholars and students of western religious history.” – George H. Schriver

“The presentation of Cobbe’s religious, moral and scientific views as well a that of others, e.g. Kant, Mill, Gosse, Butler, Martineau, Bunyan and more, are strikingly intelligent, clear, accessible to the patient reader, coherent, and robust ... a polished and stimulating read!” – Joyce Avrech Berkman

“Frances Cobbe has received considerable attention as a feminist and as a leading figure in the anti-vivisection movement. This, however, is the first sustained and detailed discussion of her theological and ethical writings. The book is all the more important because, as its author Sandra Peacock argues, religious and ethical questions were of great significance to Cobbe and were interwoven into all her other activities and concerns … Peacock's Cobbe is a more liberal, reasonable figure than the one that emerges from a reading of certain of Cobbe's own more passionate and intemperate essays. Peacock weaves her way skillfully through all of Cobbe's writings, phases, causes, and relationships. Her account is not uncritical, but is always sympathetic. The Cobbe that emerges is one deeply engaged with major religious and moral questions and eager to discuss them in relation to contemporary political and social developments. We are offered here a serious portrait of a serious thinker. Peacock makes the case for this detailed consideration of Cobbe very clearly indeed-but one cannot quite help regretting the omission of any sense of her as a truly remarkable Victorian eccentric.” – Victorian Studies

“Sandra J. Peacock positions her new book on Frances Power Cobbe between two overlapping fields of inquiry: on the one hand, Victorian intellectual history, particularly the 'crisis of faith' thesis that has so shaped the field, and, on the other, feminist studies. Building on the work of Frank M. Turner and Linda K. Kerber, who have both argued for the centrality of gender in Victorian intellectual history, Peacock's examination of the religious and ethical writings of Frances Power Cobbe aims to show that Cobbe "merits close study as a serious thinker, and [that] her essays on theological topics offer an excellent opportunity to examine the complex interplay of gender, culture, and the life of the mind in Victorian Britain"(9) … the important contribution that Peacock makes here is to trace in fine detail the complexity of Cobbe’s relationship to science.” – Susan Hamilton, University of Alberta

Table of Contents

Table of contents:
Preface; Introduction
1. The Crisis of Faith
2. Science, Anti-Evangelicalism, and Anti-clericalism
3. Race, Religion, and the Death of History
4. Consciousness, Imagination, and the Immortality of the Soul
5. The Age of Science and the Death of Faith
Bibliography; Index

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