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In This Southern Land: Gender, Nation, and Saint-making in Australia


In October 2010, Australia's first saint—Mary MacKillop—was canonized in Rome. The life of this saint has become an important symbol of women's religious agency in colonial Australia, of which there are too few accounts. It is often assumed that religion played only a small, mostly insignificant part in the development of the Australian nation-state. This essay sets out to challenge this view by suggesting that alternative readings of the life of Mary MacKillop expose not only the contribution of religious individuals, groups, and ideas to nation-building but also the ways in which the state appropriated religious discourse for its own secular ends. Exploring saint-making processes allows us to see that women were actively engaged in building nation and church, expressed their own sense of religious authority, and were committed to a faith based on social justice and inclusivity.

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