Participation Type

Paper

Presentation #1 Title

Publishing Fundamentalism? The Preaching of W.P. Nicholson

Presentation #1 Abstract

William Patteson Nicholson was known as Ulster’s Billy Sunday. He had a significant career as an itinerant evangelist in the United Kingdom, the United States, and Australia between 1902 and 1959, yet he is perhaps best known for a remarkable evangelistic campaign he led in the early 1920s in his homeland. This has been interpreted in a variety of ways: evangelicals see it as promoting a revival of religion that saved the newly formed state of Northern Ireland from civil war; denominational historians decried Nicholson as a fundamentalist malcontent; scholars have interpreted his campaigns as a means of reconciling working-class protestants to the state or as a potent reminder of a shared – yet often overlooked – Irish-American evangelical culture. Nicholson’s appeal was based upon his powerful preaching, and he was often referred to as the ‘vulgar evangelist’ because his earthy and direct style had a particular appeal to working-class men. This paper seeks to describe the popularity of Nicholson, his preaching style, and how his sermons and addresses were disseminated through newspaper reports, published sermon transcripts, books of addresses, and sound recordings. By doing so, it raises questions about how Nicholson’s spoken words were constrained yet also popularised and disseminated widely by these various technologies and how Nicholson’s preaching can be used to assess his identity as an evangelist, an Ulsterman, and a fundamentalist.

At-A-Glance Bios- Presenter #1

Andrew R. Holmes is Reader in the School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy, and Politics at Queen's University Belfast. He is the author of The Shaping of Ulster Presbyterian Belief and Practice, 1770-1840 (OUP 2006) and The Irish Presbyterian Mind: Conservative Theology, Evangelical Experience, and Modern Criticism 1830-1930 (OUP 2018).

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Publishing Fundamentalism? The Preaching of W.P. Nicholson

William Patteson Nicholson was known as Ulster’s Billy Sunday. He had a significant career as an itinerant evangelist in the United Kingdom, the United States, and Australia between 1902 and 1959, yet he is perhaps best known for a remarkable evangelistic campaign he led in the early 1920s in his homeland. This has been interpreted in a variety of ways: evangelicals see it as promoting a revival of religion that saved the newly formed state of Northern Ireland from civil war; denominational historians decried Nicholson as a fundamentalist malcontent; scholars have interpreted his campaigns as a means of reconciling working-class protestants to the state or as a potent reminder of a shared – yet often overlooked – Irish-American evangelical culture. Nicholson’s appeal was based upon his powerful preaching, and he was often referred to as the ‘vulgar evangelist’ because his earthy and direct style had a particular appeal to working-class men. This paper seeks to describe the popularity of Nicholson, his preaching style, and how his sermons and addresses were disseminated through newspaper reports, published sermon transcripts, books of addresses, and sound recordings. By doing so, it raises questions about how Nicholson’s spoken words were constrained yet also popularised and disseminated widely by these various technologies and how Nicholson’s preaching can be used to assess his identity as an evangelist, an Ulsterman, and a fundamentalist.