Acclaimed historian launches Sunday Best


Professor Lineham


The latest book by acclaimed historian and Massey University Professor in History Peter Lineham was launched last week at an event in Auckland.

More than 100 people attended the celebration for Sunday Best: How the church shaped New Zealand and New Zealand shaped the church, published by Massey University Press, at the Ponsonby Baptist church hall.

Professor Lineham told those in attendance he was inspired to write a history about churches as contributors to the social and cultural life of New Zealand, rather than a dry, fusty religious history.

“Religion is deeply woven into the ways in which New Zealanders have lived their lives and shaped their communities; so much so that we cannot understand those communities and most of those lives without exploring the religious dimension.”

He argues that to understand New Zealand society and culture today we must reflect on the religious culture that helped to shape it – from the redoubtable temperance movement to the push for social justice and gender equality. The past influence of the church explains so many of our present-day prohibitions, inhibitions, enthusiasms, civic ceremonies and rituals.

“Customs carry values,” he says, “and Sunday Best is a search for them”.

Massey University Press publisher Nicola Legat says the event’s warm atmosphere was enhanced by a delicious afternoon tea. “Peter enlisted an army of willing helpers to provide and serve a delectable feast that would have been the envy of the church women of old: scones with jam and cream, cupcakes, sweet slices, club sandwiches, asparagus, and sausage rolls.”

Among those who spoke at the launch were Professor Lineham’s colleagues, Pro Vice-Chancellor College of Humanities and Social Sciences Distinguished Professor Paul Spoonley, Professor Michael Belgrave, and Professor Lineham’s collaborator of many years, the religious historian Dr Allan Davidson, to whom Peter dedicated the book.

Sunday Best, which hit bookstore shelves this week, is illustrated with more than 90 evocative and rarely seen images from various church archives, the Alexander Turnbull Library and personal collections.

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