Finding Number (Click this to view full catalogue structure)HT
TitleThe Harold Turner Collection
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DescriptionThe collection is a record of Harold Turner's research into the phenomenon of new religious movements arising out of the interaction between traditional cultures and religions with biblical teaching, and with other religions on all continents. The origin and emphasis of the documentation has been whether this phenomenon is wide-spread and how the proliferation of these movements raised important pastoral and theological issues for Christian mission.

The collection comprises periodical and newspaper articles, unpublished papers, photocopies and original materials.
Access StatusOpen
Creator NameHarold W. Turner (1911-2002), Presbyterian minister, missionary scholar, inaugurator of university departments of religious studies, founder of the Centre for New Religious Movements
Administrative HistoryThe Rev. Dr. Harold Turner was born in Napier, New Zealand on the 13th January 1911. He was the son of a builder and originally intended to pursue a career as an Engineer in Indonesia. However, his baptism and involvement in the local Presbyterian Church in New Zealand led to his eventual enrolment at Canterbury College, University of New Zealand from where he graduated in 1935 with a first class MA in philosophy. Following graduation he went on to study theology at the Presbyterian Theological Hall at Dunedin College of Education, Dunedin, New Zealand (now part of the University of Otago), and for a term at New College, the home of the School of Divinity at the University of Edinburgh under the influential John Baillie before being ordained as a Presbyterian minister in 1939. In 1939 he married Maude Yeomans in 1939, and they subsequently had four children, Alison, David, Helen and Carolyn.

Upon completion of his studies Turner was appointed as assistant minister at the Know Church in Dunedin, a role he remained in until 1954. Turner pioneered the ecumenical student chaplaincy at Otago University College; together with a committee of lay people from Knox Church he established two University student halls of residence. These gave substance to his 'conviction that student residences should express life in a community with a shared purpose and with shared values. Their purpose should be formative and in the fullest sense educational' - as he explained in his first venture into international publishing. His monograph 'Halls of Residence' published by the Council for Educational research in New Zealand in 1953 was republished the following year by Oxford University Press. With another committee he also established the first campus-based University book shop in New Zealand, taking over the local diary for the purpose. Following his years at the chaplaincy Turner moved to a suburban parish at Opoho, Dunedin, New Zealand.

Turner had been developing his ideas on ecumenical relationships since his days as a student. Stimulated by the Christian Newsletter of the British think tank, The Moot, or the Christian Frontier Council as it was later to become, he sought to seriously apply the Christian insights it developed into New Zealand public life. Building on his own previous Moral Re-Armament involvement, he reproduced the Frontier Council's ideas in a newsletter which he produced called Interpreter. This led to appointment as Literature Secretary for the National Council of Churches Campaign for Christian Order, 1941 - 1950 - an early attempt at the work DeepSight trust would undertake fifty years later.

It was at this point that Turner recognised that his interest was for theological teaching rather than pastoral ministry. In 1954 Turner and his family migrated to Britain in the hope that Turner would be able to find a teaching post a higher education institution teaching divinity. Only a part-time role opened up at Goldsmiths' College, University of London, with a very large teacher education programme. Turner remained there until 1955 when at the end of his first year in Britain he accepted a position as a lecturer in Old Testament at the Faculty of Theology, Fourah Bay College, Sierra Leone which was allied to the University of Durham. He was to remain there until 1962 and during this time met Andrew Findlay Walls who would become a close friend and colleague throughout Turner's life. While there he developed his great interest in African religion, particularly in New Religious Movements. A meeting with Adeleke Adejobi, a Nigerian missionary of the Church of the Lord, Aladura, triggered his interest in the African Independent Churches that were to become his consuming research passion for the next twenty years. As one of the first Europeans to seriously study this area Turner realised that the wider world had little knowledge of these vibrant spiritual movements. Until this point there had been virtually no serious academic attention given to the wide-spread circle of African indigenous religious groups. His thesis on 'African Independent Churches' for his doctorate which was awarded by the Melbourne College of Divinity in 1963 was one of the first serious academic studies in that area.

Turner left Fourah Bay College in 1962 to devote time to writing his thesis.
It was during this time that he coined the phrase 'Primerm' for a new religious movement in a so-called 'primal society', and also began to develop his own system for categorising 'New Religious Movements in Primal Societies' (abbreviated to NERMS).

He was then appointed to teaching posts in the University of Nsukka, Eastern Nigeria, (1963-1966), the University of Leicester (1966), Chandler School of Theology, Emory University, Atlanta, USA (1971-1972), and the University of Aberdeen (1973 to 1983) where he set up the 'Centre for the Study of New Religious Movements', which consisted of an extensive collection of materials on NERMS which he himself had collected during the course of his work, and on his travels to all five continents.

The University of Otego, New Zealand recognised his pioneer studies on the 'New Religious Movements' by honouring his achievements with an honorary Doctorate in 1976.

His final move in the United Kingdom was to the Selly Oak Colleges, Birmingham (now part of the University of Birmingham) in 1981, where he was appointed Director of the Centre for New Religious Movements. It was during this period that he was able to obtain funding to pay for translations of some of the foreign language material in the extensive collection of resources which now forms the basis of the Harold Turner Collection, and also for the microfilming of much of the collection, copies of which were then circulated to theological colleges both at home and abroad.

It was during this time that Turner met Lesslie Newbigin through their common friend Dan Beeby. Bishop James Edward Lesslie Newbigin (8 December 1909 - 30 January 1998) was a Church of Scotland missionary who had served in the former Madras State (now Tamil Nadu), India, who became a Christian theologian and bishop involved in missiology, and ecumenism. In 1975 following extensive periods abroad Newbigin and his wife Helen and family settled in Birmingham, where Newbigin became a Lecturer in Mission at the Selly Oak Colleges for five years.

Newbigin had initiated a movement called The Gospel and Our Culture through which, in a succession of books, a newsletter and conferences, he sought 'authentic missionary engagement' with Western culture. In particular, Newbigin invited Turner to read and comment his draft of the book The Gospel in a Pluralist Society. When Harold Turner subsequently returned to his home country in 1989 following his retirement, he set up a New Zealand network with similar aims to those of Newbigin - the Gospel and Cultures Trust (later to be called DeepSight Trust). He produced a newsletter called New Slant with an ACCESS Supplement comprising an annotated list of articles and passages from books of which he would supply photocopies to readers for a small fee (a full set of New Slant is archived at the Henry Martyn Centre, Cambridge). he also ran courses, contributed chapters and articles to books and to magazines such as Stimulus, and wrote not infrequently to the press.

By the 1990s, new religious movements in primal societies were recognized alongside the standard categories of comparative religion (Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism and Christianity), as seen in the new edition of the Encyclopedia of Religion (Jones 2005).
Custodial HistoryProfessor Harold W. Turner assembled the collection on New Religious Movements in Primal Societies, coining the word PriNRMS. His experience of such a movement in Africa led him to wonder whether it was happening elsewhere. The subject became his research interest since 1956, throughout his academic career. On his retirement, he donated the collection to the Selly Oak Colleges Library, Birmingham, where he set up the Study Centre for New Religious Movements in Primal Societies, with himself as its first Director. During this time, together with many volunteers, he continued to add new materials to the collection. In 1997 the collection moved into the Orchard Learning Resources Centre, Selly Oak, and the Centre is now part of the University of Birmingham's Department of Theology, called Research Unit for New Religions and Churches. The HT collection was later transferred to the Cadbury Research Library, part of Library Services at the University of Birmingham.


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