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Rethinking Science, Religion and Nature in Environmental History: Drought in Early Twentieth-Century New Zealand

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posted on 25.06.2020 by James Beattie
This article investigates popular and elite conceptions of science and religion in an early twentieth-century European settler society. It uses the case-study of rainmaking experiments and prayers in North Otago, New Zealand, in 1907, to challenge two dominant paradigms about New Zealand society: first, that scientific rationalism was automatically antipathetic to religion and, second, that by the early twentieth century scientific ideas were secularizing New Zealand society. North Otago's residents viewed prayer and experiment as complementary activities designed to meet the same ends; there was no distinctive, hermetically sealed division between the secular and the profane. Rainmaking also offers a fascinating way of exploring contested notions of science. While local residents enthusiastically embraced the use of explosives to bring rain, meteorologists decried these measures as unscientific and amateurish, thereby attempting to increase the legitimacy of their own profession. The reaction to North Otago's rainmaking prayers and experiments differed considerably from that of other societies such as in England and Australia in which similar prayers and experiments were undertaken. These differences reflected the special social and cultural characteristics of each country and, in New Zealand's case, its greater religious tolerance and social opportunities.

History

Preferred citation

(2004). Rethinking Science, Religion and Nature in Environmental History: Drought in Early Twentieth-Century New Zealand. Historical Social Research, 29(3), 82-103. https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/20761977.pdf

Journal title

Historical Social Research

Volume

29

Issue

3

Publication date

29/03/2004

Pagination

82-103 (22)

Publisher

Quantum and Zentrum fur Historische Sozialforschung

Publication status

Published

Contribution type

Article

ISSN

0172-6404

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