This thesis addresses pervasive ways in which New Zealanders thought about Jesus
during the years from approximately 1900 to 1940. In particular, it considers ways that
he appeared within discourse, contexts in which he was especially invoked, and ends
for which he was employed. It examines Jesus as a religious icon, but also as a reflexive
tool for examining the place of religion in New Zealand culture and society. In this
sense, it addresses Jesus as a phenomenon of social and cultural history. The thesis
draws on a wide range of sources and methodologies, and is organised thematically
into chapters that highlight predominant images of Jesus and important contexts that
helped shape them. It considers Jesus in the languages of doctrine and devotion, social
reform, and for children. It further assesses images of Jesus' masculinity, and
representations of him as an 'anti-Church' prophet.
The overarching argument is that Jesus constituted an increasingly important
focal point in New Zealand religiosity during the period under investigation.
Especially within Protestant Christianity, Jesus became a more important discursive
focus and acquired new status as a source of authority. This movement reflected wider
social and cultural shifts, particularly related to understandings of the nature of society
and notions of personality. The increasingly Jesus-centred orientation of Protestant
religiosity was fundamentally an attempt to modernise Christianity and extend its
reach into the community. In particular, Jesus was invoked as the simple core of
Christianity - the attractive essence of 'true religion'. Jesus-centred religiosity provided
evidence of a changing social and cultural situation, demonstrating that religious
language and ideals could be sensitive indicators of such shifts. The rise of Jesus as a
focal point in religion was a response to change that reoriented Protestant Christianity
in the process.