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Sexual ProgressivesReimagining Intimacy in Scotland, 1880-1914$
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Tanya Cheadle

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9781526125255

Published to Manchester Scholarship Online: September 2020

DOI: 10.7765/9781526125262

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Re-sexing religion in suburban Glasgow

Re-sexing religion in suburban Glasgow

(p.80) 3 Re-sexing religion in suburban Glasgow
Sexual Progressives

Tanya Cheadle

Manchester University Press

This chapter focuses on Bella and Charles Pearce’s religious lives, and more particularly their discipleship of the American sexual mystic Thomas Lake Harris. Harris was initially a pastor of an unofficial Swedenborgian ‘New Church’ in New York, before forming religious communities in New York state and California, called the Brotherhood of the New Life. Harris preached that Christianity was mistaken to have adopted sexual asceticism and that religion needed to be ‘re-sexed’, his practice of ‘conjugial marriage’ rendering him a notorious figure in both America and Britain by the 1890s. Despite this, the Pearces remained key British disciples, importing the wine produced on the Brotherhood communities, publishing Harris’s poetry and defending him in the British press. However, the chapter argues that when articulating his transgressive theology within the socialist press, the Pearces modified its terminology and altered its emphasis, incorporating ideas from feminism and sexual science. This was due in part to the intolerance within late Victorian progressive politics for the public avowal of unconventional sexual behaviours, as evidenced by the 1895 Edith Lanchester ‘free love’ case.

Keywords:   Isabella Bream Pearce, Charles Bream Pearce, Thomas Lake Harris, Brotherhood of the New Life, Swedenborgianism, alternative religion, Independent Labour Party, conjugial marriage, karezza, ‘free love’

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