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LEGS, or "Law-Engaged Graduate Students," meets during the academic year to discuss a work in progress by one of our Graduate Associates. Academic papers, dissertation proposals, and dissertation chapters have been presented at these meetings, to an audience of fellow graduate students.
“Were any one to ask you what is the strongest ecclesiastical tendency of this age?” would you not at once answer, constitutional regeneration and reconstruction?” (Rev. Hugh Campbell, Presbyterian Church in England, 4 Nov. 1845)
The nineteenth century is commonly known as an age of constitutional reform movements. After Revolution and Counter-Revolution swept through Europe, Reform took their place. One thinks of the various ‘-isms’ that sought to supply the ideological vacancy left by the downfall of the anciens régimes: liberalism, utilitarianism, socialism, utopianism, Fourierism, nationalism.
Writing and rewriting constitutions were not monopolised by these rather new and secular ideologies. An older player also participated quite eagerly—namely religion. My dissertation examines how one religious group, the Presbyterians, perceived and grappled with constitutional problems of the day and sought to shape the outcomes thereof.
Presbyterians had a long tradition of reflecting on issues of representation and jurisdiction. They were thus well equipped with conceptual tools to discuss many of the challenges posed by electoral reform, imperial expansion, and mass migration. These inherited ideas about church government were too often transposed onto ideas about civil government—thus internal disputes within Presbyterianism could be transformed into problems of imperial governance.
NOTE: There will be no paper for this meeting. Min Tae will be sharing his research and dissertation work to date and seeking your comments and insights.
Min Tae Cha is a fifth-year doctoral candidate in the Department of History. As a historian of the nineteenth-century British Empire and U.S.A., he is primarily interested in the global histories of law and religion: especially in the competing and complementing norm-generating powers of both spheres, and the relative autonomy (or lack thereof) of one from the other.
His dissertation, provisionally entitled “Presbyterian Visions of Global Order: Religious Networks, Constitutionalism, and Empire, c.1830-c.1880”, shows that Presbyterian ecclesiology influenced developments in “secular liberal” constitutional movements and in case law. Through the medium of sectarian periodical publications, developments in Britain, the settlement colonies, and the USA influenced each other and took on a global significance.
Before entering Princeton, Cha received B.A. (cum laude) and M.A. degrees in history at Yonsei University.