Overlooking Scottish Christianity

By Michael A.G. Haykin

Today I picked up a copy of T.M. Devine’s Scotland’s Empire: The Origins of the Global Diaspora (Penguin, 2004): it is an excellent work. Noticed an interesting oversight near the beginning of the book, though. Devine is noting the way that Scottish emigration and “engagement with empire [the British Empire] impacted “almost every nook and cranny of Scottish life.” And then gives his reader a list of these nooks and crannies: “industrialization, intellectual activity, politics, identity, education, popular culture, consumerism, labour markets, demographic trends, Highland social development and much else” (p.xxvii).

Now what is missing from that list? Any Scot living in the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century world that Devine is interested in would see it right away: why it is the lack of the word “religion.” Now why do contemporary historians assume that their subjects of study are as secular as themselves? Of course, Devine knows about the presence of religious groups in the period he is writing about: for example, he mentions Presbyterians and Baptists (though his use of the term “Baptistry” to describe the set of Baptist beliefs, on  a parallel with Presbyterianism or Congregationalism reveals a certain lack of familiarity with church history—see p.157). But this list from the beginning of the book may well be a give-away: religion is not important for us, ipso facto, it has never been important. But nothing could be further from the case.

Devine’s main thesis, of course, stands: the British Empire was built by expatriate Scots and were “at the very cutting edge of British global expansion” (p.360). Anyone familiar, for example, with Ontario Baptist life in the nineteenth century will know that nearly all of the key figures in the nineteenth century were Scots or of Scottish descent. Now, there is a thesis or book!


Michael A.G. Haykin is the director of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies. He also serves as Professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Haykin and his wife Alison have two grown children, Victoria and Nigel.