Introduction
in Prayer, providence and empire
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The introduction defines special worship, explains the chronological and geographical focus, and outlines the book’s key themes. These are brought out through an early examination of the chief similarities and differences between traditions of special worship in the British Isles and the settler colonies. The chief difference, one that provides a key problematic explored in the book, is that while British governments ceased to set aside special days of prayer for all but royal occasions after 1860, colonial states continued to use the royal proclamation to summon their populations to special acts of worship well into the twentieth century. Also, while days of ‘fasting’ and ‘humiliation’, appointed by states, disappeared in the British Isles after 1857, such occasions remained a customary response to crisis in settler societies. All this raises large questions about the nature of authority in colonial societies, the religious basis of community identity and the invention and persistence of tradition in overseas settlements. In addition to exploring these varied histories of special worship, the introduction explains why traditional forms, such as the special day of prayer, require the attention of ‘British world’ scholars. Often the study of colonial society is a search for the new. This book argues that equal attention should be paid to the old and the traditional if the varied character of Britain’s colonial settler societies is to be understood.

Prayer, providence and empire

Special worship in the British world, 1783–1919