Popular Radicalism, Religious Parody and the Mock Sermon in the 1790s
This article examines the role of religious parody in the popular radical movement in Britain in the 1790s, focusing on a collection of little-known mock sermons and the booksellers who published them. Aimed at a plebeian audience, these mock sermons revived an old tradition of religious satire and drew extensively on the resources of popular culture. They functioned to democratize the meanings of religious rituals, as popular perceptions and practices were fashioned into an authoritative mode of radical political discourse. In part, this was a response to the way in which genuine sermons and other religious rituals had become politicized during the French Revolution debate, particularly on occasions such as public fast days. Intriguingly, however, these mock sermons were not opposed to religious belief, despite being written in a style of populist irreverence. On the contrary, they were all published by booksellers sympathetic to popular religious feeling and were evidently intended to appeal to devout as well as sceptical members of plebeian society. In this sense, mock sermons shed new light on the propaganda war of the 1790s, disclosing the complex religious affiliations of the popular radical movement and highlighting the affinities between millennarian and secular patterns of thought.
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