Louise Mussio

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Michael Gauvreau




"Communities Apart: Dissenting Traditions in Nineteenth-Century Central Canada" studies the relationship between five Dissenting Protestant groups--the Quakers, Children of Peace, Disciples of Christ, Millerites and the Holiness Movement Church--and several key political and social transformations in nineteenth-century central Canadian life. It challenges SD Clark's argument that Dissenting "sects" were otherworldly and apolitical, while at the same time revising the more modern Canadian historiographical trend to confine discussions of Protestantism's cultural impact to so-called "mainline" denominations. In the process, it discovers that Dissenting denominations were important participants in the societal dialogue regarding various aspects of central Canadian life. In the first half of the nineteenth century, the Dissenters considered in this thesis challenged the compact between Church and state which was entrenched in the Constitution of 1791, and presented alternatives to the culture of hierarchy and deference, rooted in a common core of democratic, Christian values. These included a strident anti-formalism, in addition to a staunch defense of liberty of conscience, the priesthood of all believers and sola scriptura , or alternatively, a mystical sense of God's active direction in the life of the believer. As the links between church and state were dismantled, a new form of Dissent arose whose focus was more socio-economic than political. Indeed, within this thesis, "New Dissent" constituted a reaction to mainline Methodism's assumption of several of the cultural attributes of an established church in defense of a rising, and later consolidating middle class. Although the context had shifted, Dissenters of the new era continued to base their criticisms of the larger culture and of Methodist elites, in addition to their claims to superior spiritual and hence social authority on democratic Christian notions. Moreover, this thesis explores how certain Dissenting communities were guided by their religious beliefs and experiences to present alternatives to the gender ideologies espoused by the larger culture. It also demonstrates how "mainstream" cultural consensus was profoundly shaped in response to Dissenting alternatives from the 1840s to the 1890s. What emerges is a clearer understanding of the diverse and uniquely Canadian ways in which contentious political, social and religious questions were experienced, imagined and resolved.

McMaster University Library

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