The New Zealand Student Christian Movement, 1896-1936
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
The historian who attempts a research into student life in New Zealand is somewhat hampered by the lonely nature of his quest. He follows a course through virgin territory where few of his sources lie ready at hand. This is particularly true in a study of Christian society within the University, and the present writer is fully aware of such limitations in undertaking a history of the first forty years in the New Zealand Student Christian Movement. One could not ignore the forbidding tangle of untouched sources. At the same time some fresh wild roses are peeping out from behind their thorny defences. There is the fragrancy of student life, the rich colour of youthful aspirations, and the steady rhythms of change as each generation burgeous forth and gives place to new growth every three or four years. By its very nature the Student Christian Movement provides a microcosm of the wider student community. With our attention concentrated on a comparatively restricted field, we may draw conclusions which transcend the immediate limits of the subject, and reach out into large questions of Church and State. Such a work would be futile and deceptive unless it were founded in the sure base of original sources. Therefore, the write has sought to mould his thesis from contemporary date in each period, with especial references to letters, minutes of proceedings, memoirs, and reports of student activities. Correspondents in Australia, Canada, the United States of America, South Africa, and China have provided some revealing comparative information. Newspapers and periodicals have furnished valuable corroborative evidence. Sometimes books, and more frequently, study pamphlets, have supplied useful secondary information. But it was chiefly through personal interviews with past leaders that the spirit of successive generations has been recaptures, however inadequately. This method of research may involve more extensive investigations than is required for historical studies which bloom in a solid rich with acknowledge authorities; yet its potential value as original work is enhanced by the spontaneity of the evidence, and the complementary testimonies of persons who took part in the action. Almost certainly there has been some loss of mature judgement; this is inevitable when protagonists are allowed to tell their own story. But the added realism which is afforded by direct reference serves as an effective counterweight to this tendency, and one is thereby enabled to judged more accurately from the personal viewpoint. A thesis of this nature could not presume to deal adequately with anything beyond general outlines. While its scope is this limited to the selection of significant events and trends in the Movement’s life, it has been found possible to include incidents in some detail when there are characteristic of the Movement as a whole. The writer has sought to draw illustrations from the various centres, without attempting to enter upon a rigid series of comparisons between Colleges at given periods. At times one centre is used as the norm; more frequently it has been found advisable to blend the experiences of the constituent parts, and to refer only to specific centres when anomalies occur, or salient points emerge. While this study is written against a background of University life, its dominant theme is the growing unity of Christians within the ecumenical movement. It may also be regarded as a study in federal organisation, since the New Zealand Student Christian Movement, a component member of the World’s Student Christian Federation, exhibits in the development of its own constitution all the essential attributes of a federation. Attention should be given to the relationship between the Movement and the Christian Church, in particular to its influence on foreign missions. Religious history holds many snares but none perhaps so enticing as the lure to partisanship. The present writer has endeavoured to preserve impartiality by refraining for the most part from general conclusions until the final chapter. While reserving the right of a historian to praise or condemn, he trusts that the main body of the narrative will serve as its own interpreter. It may be an infallible criterion of religious movements that they shall be known by their fruits; but in this study it is also imperative to bear in mind the indirect leavening influence of the Student Christian Movement upon the community at large. The writer is deeply conscious of incapacity to deal justly with this aspect of his subject, and he hopes that the bare indications which he has given will assist the reader in forming his own objective conclusions.