Rethinking Science, Religion and Nature in Environmental History: Drought in Early Twentieth-Century New Zealand
journal contributionposted on 2020-06-25, 03:31 authored by James BeattieJames 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.