A to Z

This section explores an A-Z of the themes that reoccur throughout the images that we gathered for this project. 

K is for Knowledge

Great shifts in ways of knowing and accessing knowledge took place across the nineteenth century. Formal education expanded: by the end of the century schooling to the age of 13 was compulsory and free in Britain and dozens of American states. Access to study expanded along gender and faith lines too with the opening of secular universities and the first female cohorts of students. Mechanics Institutes and the lyceum movement enabled workers and the public to read about scientific discoveries and political matters or hear from visiting speakers. John Macnie’s utopian novel The Diothas (1883) further democratises knowledge through technological progress: in the ninety-sixth century, students or the public can listen to a university lecture via ‘phonographic notes’ – today’s lecture capture.

Alongside democratised studying opportunities, knowledge itself shifted away from a strict reliance on scripture and faith to explain the world. In ‘The Universal Church of the Future’ (1883), illustrator Joseph Keppler reflects on the influence of the Enlightenment, Deism and Darwinism on late nineteenth-century epistemology. In Keppler’s vision of the near future churches have been renovated and now function like museums and libraries. In the image, groups of men are gathered around cases of books that relate to the humanities and sciences, and near the building’s glass ceiling, hang a number of portraits.

Keppler presents a future where rationality, reason and science have replaced blindless faith in religion. This message becomes apparent when some aspects of the cartoon are analysed more closely. On the right of the picture, for example, stands a bookcase (‘Books of Religious Reference’) containing several holy texts such as two Bibles, a Koran, and a Vedas. Notably, the books are dated between 1200 and sometime in the 1870s. Rather than carrying the cultural prestige, respect, and gravity that society still pays to holy texts, scriptures in Keppler’s imagined future have been reduced to objects of history that is to be studied like an artefact. 

As a result, the lives of individuals in Keppler’s vision are not led by the moral teachings of scripture but by the humanist principles of logic and reason that Enlightenment philosophy decrees. Keppler conveys this message by replacing traditional pews with benches and chairs that face each other. Rather than sit in solemn worship, this arrangement allows the individuals to engage in democratic discussion, the hallmark of an enlightened individual. Keppler suggests that in the churches of the future, attendees will be encouraged to engage in intellectual, philosophical conversations, and be motivated to faith by thought and reason rather than doctrine.

Joseph Keppler, ‘The Universal Church of the Future – From the Present Religious Outlook’, Puck, 10 January 1883, Library of Congress.