Alexander Duff and the theological and philosophical background to the General Assembly's Mission in Calcutta to 1840
Maxwell, Ian Douglas
This thesis sets out to explore the theological and philosophical background to the General Assembly's Institution in Calcutta. This is done by means of a study of the education and early career of Alexander Duff, the Mission's first superintendent, and an examination of the institutions with which Duff was involved.Earlier historical study by Duffs Victorian biographers suggested that the Evangelical Revival was a significant influence on Duffs early religious formation. Duffs involvement in the Theological and Student Missionary Societies at the university has already been identified by several historians as important for his later mission interests. The powerful influence of Thomas Chalmers, Professor of Moral Philosophy at the United Colleges has also been noted. This thesis argues, however, that the most important elements of Duffs later approach to mission in Calcutta have their origins in the educational traditions of St.Andrews University. From the Humanities course there Duff imbibed a Baconian theory of modernity. And the rhetorical skills to which he was introduced in Professor James Hunter's class were to be a characteristic of his later career.Alexander Duffs main theological training was at St.Mary's, the divinity college of St.Andrews University. This training, the thesis argues, was in the then dominant tradition of rational Calvinism. The emphasis of this tradition was essentially on the importance of rationality for Christian belief, chiefly expressed in an assured confidence in the potentialities of reason and the rational progress of history.The argument of the thesis continues by tracing the contours of the wide ranging debate within Scottish presbyterianism on the progress of civil society and the key role of rationality in advancing that progress. Many of the assumptions and expectations underlying the establishment of the Institution in Calcutta first emerged in this debate.Much valuable research has already been completed into the early history of the Institution in Calcutta. This enquiry builds on that earlier research in order to explore further Alexander Duffs use of apologetic theology in the renowned lectures to the students of Hindu College. The argument of this study is that Duffs use of this theology typifies the emphases of the rational Calvinist tradition. The enquiry goes on to record the mounting financial pressures on the Institution which led Duff to seek public funding from Scotland.al pressures on the Institution which led Duff to seek public funding from Scotland. The necessary financial support for the Mission, however, was contingent on public perceptions of the work of the Institution. Within Scottish presbyterianism the dominant paradigm of missions was traditionally evangelical and biblicist. Alexander Duff, however, iv was supremely successful in displacing this model by a series of Assembly addresses, speeches, pamphlets and books, India and Indian Missions in particular. He was, furthermore, able to consolidate these gains by further speeches on a tour of the presbyteries of Scotland. He did this to such effect that what was essentially the rational Calvinist approach to missions became part of the normal discourse of Scottish presbyterianism until at least the second half of the nineteenth century.These themes are drawn together in a conclusion which enables a more precise assessment of the contribution of the Scottish Enlightenment to presbyterian missions. The conclusions of recent historical study are corroborated. Alexander Duff was not the pioneer of missionary education that previous generations understood him to be. His achievement lies in other areas. In Missions - the Chief End of the Church, for example, he made a highly original contribution towards an understanding of the missionary nature of the Church. Within the period in question, however, his main achievement was to have shifted the public perception of missions in Scotland towards a modern theory of rationally motivated change. Indeed, as a general conclusion this study argues that Duffs promulgation of a Baconian emphasis on modernity based on an older Enlightenment theory of the emergence of civil society was prototypical. As such, it was the ancestor of those later nineteenth century mission theories of development which aimed at the displacement of traditional, pre-industrial culture by rational Westernized society.