At the heart of Matthew Arnold's writings, whether literary, sociological, historical, or biblical, was the attempt to create an enlightened and foward-looking religion. For him this meant a Christianity that was "scientific," "non-semitic," Indo-European, and Aryan in quality-- in his words containing "more of Plato and Socrates than Joshua and David." Profoundly influenced by work of Bunsen, Renan, de Gobbineau, and Burnof, he drew on now a largely submerged and conveniently forgotten tradition of anti-semitic thought, and was widely accepted as having a scientific basis.
According to this "ethnological" school of thought, which was also to influence the novels of Charles Kingsley, Christianity was an Aryan religion in revolt against the degenerate corruprions of Judaism. Without an awareness of this context, much nineteenth-century religious debate can easily be misunderstoode. If, in one sense, it provides a perspective on one of the dead-ends in nineteenth-century science, in another, it was only laid to rest with the death-camps of the Second World War, and so far from being only of passing historical interest, was arguably one of the most alarmingly significant legacies of nineteenth-century thought.
Last modified August 2001