This chapter provides the Victorian background to voluntary social work in Britain and raises the question, put by Alexis de Tocqueville, whether Christianity is essential to modern democracies. It is an overview of the diffuse patterns of social interaction outside the family in the nineteenth century, from dropping in on a neighbour to the work of illustrious charities, which were inspired by religion. Particular attention is given to the relationship of evangelicalism to charity, the contribution of religion to the growth of associational culture, and to charitable institutions as expressions of civic democracy.
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