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Religion and National Identity

Governing Scottish Presbyterianism in the Eighteenth Century

Alistair Mutch

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What is the enduring impact of Presbyterianism on what it means to be Scottish?

Presbyterianism has shaped Scotland and its impact on the world. Behind its beliefs lie some distinctive practices of governance which endure even when belief fades. These practices place a particular emphasis on the detailed recording of decisions and what we can term a ‘systemic’ form of accountability.

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Chapter 1: Looking for practices
The Protestant Ethic and practice
The nature of practice
Scottish religious practice
Chapter 2: The emergence of a governance system
Structure of the church
An emerging system: the seventeenth century
Consolidating the Revolution settlement
Steuart of Pardovan
Chapter 3: Presbyterial business
Business as usual in the presbytery
The parochial visitation in practice
Ministerial conduct and the demise of the visitation
Monitoring sessions at a distance
Formalisation of the letter
relaxation of the spirit
Chapter 4: The kirk session
The Session Clerk
Deacons and Heritors
Life of the Session
Making communion happen
Chapter 5: Handling finances
Developing the money register
Record format
Using the records
Getting the money in
The poor box
The treasurer
Disputes over accountability
Chapter 6: Scottish systemic accountability
Theory and practice
Regional differences
Law and education
Chapter 7: Contrasts and consequences
Personal accountability in the Church of England
Contrasts with Scotland
Chapter 8: Conclusion
Religion as a social practice
Scotland and Presbyterianism
Appendix 1: Contrast of visitation questions
Appendix 2: Parochial visitations in four presbyteries 1700-1735
Appendix 3: Questions asked about ministerial conduct at parochial visitations in 1710 compared to 1704 Overtures
Appendix 4: Questions asked about sessions at parochial visitations in 1710 compared to 1704 Overtures
Appendix 5: Questions at privy censures in presbytery of Cupar in 1730 compared to 1704 Overtures
Appendix 6: Parish records examined for account formats
Appendix 7: Coding structure for analysis of recording of financial transactions
Appendix 8: Account formats across five presbyteries
Primary sources
National Records of Scotland
Nottinghamshire Record Office
University of Nottingham, Manuscripts and Special Collections
Liverpool Record Office
Derbyshire Record Office
Printed primary sources
Secondary sources.

About the Author

Alistair Mutch is Professor of Information & Learning at Nottingham Business School. He combines organizational theory with business history and has published on Scottish rural and religious history. He is author of Managing Information and Knowledge in Organizations, 2008 and Strategic and Organizational Change: From Production to Retailing in UK Brewing 1950-1990, 2006.


'In both Weber and Foucault, religious institutions and practices were vital to the emergence of capitalist modernity. Mutch supplements Weber’s focus on belief with the routines of church administration: how theology was translated into everyday practices at the grassroots of specific parishes. The achievement of Religion and National Identity is that it does not attempt to read off individual identity or collective action from religious doctrine: the everyday workings of obscure Calvinists have much more to tell us than renowned theologians. This focus on the entanglements of practice, routine and belief provides an invaluable pointer towards how the historical imagination and organisation theory can enrich each other.'

- Alan McKinlay, Organization

'The richness of the records Mutch analyses is in itself proof of their significance in Scottish culture in the eighteenth century; and, in its focus on everyday practice, his book is an excellent corrective to popular conceptions of the eighteenth-century church in Scotland.'

- Emma Macleod, University of Stirling, Innes Review

'This book is an important addition to the study of Scottish Presbyterianism and piety, with a close examination of church records that indicate the way in which administrative records not only give an account of the religious shaping of the nation, but lie at the heart of the Presbyterian identity that has marked the nation since the middle of the sixteenth century.'

- Kenneth B. E. Roxburgh, Journal of Church and State

'The author’s prose is surprisingly light for the subject matter and it is obvious that, when it comes to the examination of presbytery records, he has done as much sorting and summarising as he can while still supporting his arguments with evidence. The text is also leavened by delightful anecdotes and surprising facts…The book closes with six appendices which offer readers opportunity to examine Mutch’s collected data in greater detail. For specialists I suspect these annexes will be essential reading and a spur to further research.'

- JAMES J. S. FOSTER, Scottish Historical Review
'Beautifully written... this is a book to be commended.'
- Graeme Morton, Journal of Scottish Historical Studies