The Problem of Pleasure

The Problem of Pleasure

Sport, Recreation and the Crisis of Victorian Religion

Dominic Erdozain


Boydell Press



The book combines intellectual, cultural and social history to address a major area of encounter between Christianity and British culture: the world of leisure.
This book traces the rise and fall of the evangelical movement, the powerhouse of Victorian religion, via its preoccupation with pleasure. Victorian evangelicalism demonstrated an ability to excite the affections but also a corresponding suspicion of worldly pleasures. Suspicion developed into hostility, and a movement premised on freedom became coercive and alienating. The crisis of Victorian religion began.
It is generally held that the mid-Victorian turn to recreation and sport solved the problem, 'justifying God to the people' through cricket, cycling and football. This book argues otherwise - that the problem of pleasure was inflamed by the ecclesiastical remedy. The problem of overdrawn boundaries between church and world gave way to a new and subtle confusion of gospel and culture. Historians have praised the mood of engagement but the costs were profound. In fact, sport became the perfect vehicle for that humanistic, 'unmystical' morality that defines the secularity of the twentieth century. Secularisation did not wait for the Dionysian rebellions of the 1960s: it emerged - almost a hundred years earlier - in the Victorian transformation of religion into ethics. Central to the process was the problem of pleasure.

DOMINIC ERDOZAIN is Lecturer in the History of Christianity, King's College London


February 2010
6 black and white illustrations
322 pages
23.4x15.6 cm
Studies in Modern British Religious History
ISBN: 9781843835288
Format: Hardback
Library eBook
Boydell Press
BISAC HIS015000, SOC039000
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Table of Contents

'Born Free and Everywhere in Chains': Evangelicalism and the Problem of Pleasure
Romanticism with Boots On: The Virtues of Sport
Negotiating the Secular: the Coming of Recreation to the mid-Victorian Religious World
'We Are All Cyclists Now': Applying the Pleasure Principle
Sport and the Secularisation of late-Victorian Youth Ministry
Contesting the Sacred: the late-Victorian Church and the 'Gospel of Amusement'


A bold book, written with considerable confidence and élan. ARCHIVES

Erdozain lays out a compelling and well-structured argument. (He) has provided an important contribution to our understanding of the Evangelical adoption of nonreligious agencies and their central place within the secularization process. JOURNAL OF BRITISH STUDIES

A major work of scholarship and a valuable corrective to the errors of historians of Victorian sport. SPORT IN HISTORY

Erdozain's contribution to this (secularization) debate makes a forceful case that future contributors will need to take seriously into account. HISTORY
Deserves attention not only from historians, but also from a wider readership. CHURCH TIMES
Essential reading for those with a variety of interests: anyone considering the history of evangelicalism should be engaged, readers with an interest in issues of secularisation will be intrigued, denominational historians of the nineteenth century will find much to ponder, and those whose prime focus is in tracing the history of sport inside and outside the church will find Erdozain's narrative and arguments compelling. REGENTS REVIEWS
This is a scholarly and important book with a big subject which links sport to the wider shores of cultural and religious history. SPORT IN HISTORY
Dominic Erdozain has an important and fascinating story to tell and he tells it with real verve. VICTORIAN STUDIES
A devastating critique of why and how Churches became dispensers of 'religious good and services. DEEP CHURCH BLOG
A major contribution to the ongoing debate about secularisation in Britain. There is much to appreciate here. The long sweep of history, from the 18th century down to the 20th, allows a bold thesis to be worked out in its totality. (...) This is lively, even sparkling, prose. REVIEWS IN HISTORY

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