Lewis Carroll and Religion
Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson) was a deeply spiritual man, and this informed all aspects of his life. His father was a highly-respected conservative Anglican church figure of his time, and he raised his son to hold the same traditional values. Over time, the adult Carroll discovered that some of his own views were more broad than those of his father, which may have caused some awkwardness between them. In addition, Carroll loved the legitimate theatre dearly, which his father would have considered highly questionable if not sacrilegious. And Carroll of course also loved photography, which many religious conservatives of the time considered another unwholesome recreation.
At the time of his passing, Carroll was working on many projects, including an essay in which he was applying his skills in logic to proving that a benevolent God would not allow eternal damnation to exist, which makes a remarkable statement about his openness to exploring the world around him and considering beliefs other than those he learned growing up. In his later years, Carroll also joined the Society for Psychical Research (founded 1882), as a scientific exploration of a possible alternate expression of spirituality. (Other famous members included Arthur Conan Doyle, Virginia Woolf, Williams James, and John Ruskin, among many others.)
But while Carroll expressed flexibility in some areas, he was resolute in his basic beliefs of decency and reverence. He took great exception if anyone used the name of God in vain or in humor, and would never attend any theatrical enterprise that bore the slightest whiff of disrespect or indecency. It was not unusual for him to read bible lessons to his child friends as part of the informal betterment he offered them. He once brought a child friend to see famed actress Ellen Terry as Marguerite in a production of Faust, and infuriated Terry afterwards by privately suggesting to her that her onstage removal of an article of clothing had made the child uncomfortable.
The casual reader may not know this, but Carroll was also a Deacon of Christ Church, Oxford, where he taught mathematics and logic. In his day, acceptance of a Studentship (basically equivalent to a tenured staff position in the U.S. college system, but including room and board) at Christ Church meant that he had to accept the 39 Articles (see links below), and to agree to remain celibate and proceed to holy orders to retain his Studentship. To the best of our knowledge, Carroll did indeed remain celibate his whole life, but while he became a Deacon, he decided not to proceed to holy orders. At that time, his superior, Dean Henry George Liddell (Alice’s father) could have rescinded Carroll’s Studentship, but decided not to, despite their disagreement on numerous internal political matters. This allowed Carroll to remain at Christ Church for the rest of his life, teaching, worshiping, and writing.
Much has been made of Carroll’s decision not to take holy orders, and while we may never know the exact thought process that led to his decision, he expressed concern in some writings that his occasionally severe speech impediment made him a less than ideal candidate. He cited one instance where he was simply unable to produce the last word of his sermon, and finally had to give up trying, which he felt must have greatly mystified the congregation. We can also infer that it would have meant giving up both the theatre and photography, which were a very large part of his social life. It should also be noted that while Carroll did not progress beyond his Deacon status, he did continue to preach occasionally, often as a substitute, and took the preparation of his sermons as seriously as he took his math, logic, and creative writing.
The links below are intended only as a small sample of the information available to you online for this fascinating and under-explored aspect of Lewis Carroll.
Please note: All links provided on this site are for reference only, and do not necessarily represent an endorsement of a given site or its contents. If you know of additional links appropriate for this or any of our other pages, please send the link to us! We are always looking for new, good-quality links relating to Lewis Carroll.
- The Thirty-Nine Articles (Anglican)
- History of the Thirty-Nine Articles
- Differences between Anglican and Catholic Articles
- An Overview of Religion in Victorian Britain
- Official Christ Church Cathedral Page
- More about Christ Church Cathedral
- A Brief Entry About St. Peter’s, London (where Carroll worshipped regularly)
- The Church of England in Oxfordshire
- A Transcription of a Radio Discussion of the Society for Psychical Research