Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


The dissertation provides a comprehensive study of the neglected religious writings, published and unpublished, of Jeremy Bentham. The origin, character, and purpose of his thoughts on religion have been misunderstood by scholars in the past. The first five chapters are devoted to an interpretive account of the importance of the religious writings and how they are to be understood. The second chapter is a history of Bentham's emerging unbelief, his early disaffection with organised religion, and his subsequent systematic attack on religion in general in later life. In the third chapter the conventional interpretive accounts of the religious writings which emphasize their relation to Bentham's political interests are examined, and it is argued that it is incorrect to limit the framework of analysis to the political context. In particular a study of the methodology employed by Bentham is required. Accordingly, in Chapter IV it is argued that there exists a necessary connection between the particular theoretical principles of his social science, on the one hand, and the nature of his critique of religion, on the other. But this is not to ignore political matters, for an examination of the relation between religion and ethics and legislation in the early published works, reveals that Bentham conducted a deliberate effort to construct a science of society free from all religious considerations. In Chapter V the critique of religion is shown to be fundamental to his vision of the secular Utilitarian state.;In Chapters VI-VIII the religious writings are reviewed in detail and the exhaustive nature of the utilitarian test of organised, natural, and revealed religion conducted by Bentham is made apparent. The theme of Chapter VI is "religious liberty", and here his thoughts of compulsory oaths, subscriptions to articles of faith, penal laws against Dissenters, and plight of the Catholics, and the Common Law crime of "blasphemy" are examined. Chapter VII is a study of Bentham's attack on the Anglican Establishment, its "sinister" connection with government and its role in the education of the youthful poor, and of his proposals for disestablishment. In Chapter VIII the nature of his critique of Christian doctrines and his attitude to the Scriptures, miracles, asceticism and "sexual nonconformity" are examined. Finally, in Chapter IX the peculiar character of Bentham's vision of the secular Utilitarian utopia is illustrated and it is shown that atheism is integral to the possibility of its realization.



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