What does it mean to exist in complex relationships with machines? What insights can be offered to our understandings of these relationships by the theologically significant theme of ‘love’? What critical assessments can be made of our multiple uses of technologies in shaping our futures, by reflecting on our pasts?

Events and Outputs
> Robots vs Loneliness?
> Focus Groups
> Conference: Care and Machines
Useful links 

Disquiet over the prevalence of social and economic individualism has a long history. In a world of mobile Capital and increasingly mobile people, communities of common tradition and locality appear to be under threat from the advent of a fragmented market society. Are these complaints against individualism justified? And crucially, how should Christians respond to them? Digging down into the substance of these questions, this project will consider the theological, liturgical and scriptural resources Christians have for understanding the notion of individualism in relation to issues of education, public life and the formation of democratic citizenship.

A Shaking of the Foundations? Reconsidering Civil Society, 3

Churches, Communities, and Society

 Public Negotiations and Interventions

An International Conference

25th – 26th October 2013

The University of Manchester, UK


Booking for this international conference is now open--click here. 


The modest fee covers the conference supper on Friday and lunch on the Saturday.

The venue is the Samuel Alexander building (no. 67 on the campus map) at the University of Manchester.


If you have any queries, please contact the conference administrator Hannah Mansell on +44 (0) 161 275 3319 or email

In contemporary British society, Christian religion refuses to stay in its place. Unruly, it is established in some places (England, Scotland) and yet in all places numerically in decline; public, and yet caught off guard by an Occupy movement; suborned, and yet capable of protest; lordly, and yet attempting to represent the common good; proactively interfaith, and yet caught up in its own internal concerns; national, yet present in very different ways in city and country; a witness for peace, and yet offering pastoral support to all.

It remains true that the older Christian denominations decrease in size, and with this comes a certain defensiveness. Admittedly, this decline is sometimes obscured by immigration from within the European Union and the growth of Christian churches that are the result of “Empire”. Nonetheless, British Christianities remain public in remarkably diverse ways and vigorously active in civil society. Witness the furore over Sharia, an Archbishop penning a column in Britain’s best-selling tabloid, and the dispute over whether public prayers should be banned. The 2008 report Moral, But No Compass: Government, Church and the Future of Welfare gave some indication of the formal engagement of the churches in civil society. The informal contribution of the churches to social capital in civil society is incalculable.

This publicness is mixed: it is not always to the credit of these Christianities. The reception is mixed, too: the wider culture continues to find Christianities fascinating and infuriating—and not always for the best of reasons. Yet there is a grudging, common recognition that the challenges British society faces—climate change, for example—require moral resources that are not generated by consumerism.

This is not only an issue for the churches in the UK. So there will be an important international dimension to the conference with papers from the contexts of India and Argentina.

This two-day conference explores some of the issues, concerns and contradictions generated by this remarkable state of affairs. It does so from a variety of perspectives: theological, ethical, political, and social. And the voices raised range from the concerned to the sceptical.

Among the matters to be addressed are:

Church, civil society, formation, and the virtues.

      The role of formal & informal Christian groups in civil society (NGOs, think tanks, etc.).

      The power of publicness: whom do the churches serve?

      Churches, civil society and the postcolonial.

      Finance, markets and a moral basis of capitalism.

The churches and their neighbours (labour, women’s, spiritual and environmental movements,  for example): secular and postsecular friendships and collaborations.

      Civil society as the home of many religious traditions.

      The re-/dis-/mis-establishment of the Church of England.

      The churches and the moral life of “the nation”.

      The “Paxman outlook”: metropolitan disdain and the hollowing out of moral life. 



Philip Lewis (University of Bradford)

'The civic and political incorporation of British Muslims & the role of the churches - whose incorporation, which Islam?'

This paper reviews the incorporation of British Muslims in public and civic life & the role of churches in facilitating this. However, while churches - especially the Anglican Church -  has used its institutional influence to make institutional space for Muslims, this begs the question which sorts of Islamic expression are hospitable to such collaboration and co-operation, and which are not. This paper will identify distinct expressions of Islam - some of which cannot be readily incorporated; others which can.

Alison Milbank (University of Nottingham)

‘Deeper Magic:’ Re-engaging the virtues in school and parish.'

Argues from an Anglican perspective for a re-engagement with the virtue ethics tradition as a generous and hospitable moral formation which can allow both a civil society to emerge but also within a tradition in which the Good is conceived in transcendent terms. The church will need to find imaginative ways in which to stage entries into wonder, which is the opening of the religious sense, in order to reveal to people that there is a ‘deeper magic’ than the secular order. This will require techniques in which new habits, new awareness of locality and of our embeddedness in the material are established. The paper will try to give examples of how to go about this project and will suggest that establishment should come from below.


Ivan Petrella (Fundación Pensar, Buenos Aires, Argentina) By SKYPE

'Elections, Politics and Civil Society: perspectives from liberation theology'

Liberation theology taught that the most dangerous idolatries lie outside of churches and theology, beyond the traditional religious sphere. Instead, the idolatries that claim human lives are to be found in what are typically thought of as secular disciplines and the secular world. Despite this claim, theologians have been reluctant to really tackle secular disciplines. Instead, extending this insight is the key to making liberation theology mainstream. To do so, theologians must separate “liberation” from “theology” allowing the epistemological shift—adopting the perspective of the poor—to infiltrate disciplines such as economics, medicine, urban planning and others. In making liberation theology mainstream in this way, the paper will explore some of the implications of this epistemological shift for understanding civil society.

Stephen Platten (Diocese of Wakefield)

'Making Good People … Rather than Making People Good?’  

Christian ideas of holiness and perfectionism are a key part of the tradition of practical divinity which can be found in Anglican and Wesleyan traditions. Perfectionism and deification are often seen as the preserve of the elite. This paper argues that they are important elements in the church's social teaching and should most properly be seen as the preserve of all Christians, individually and corporately. In the church's worship and through the vision of God the people of God are perfected. This perfecting of vision allows the church to see all of human life as open to the operation of grace and as having the potential to be renewed and set within the context of God's creative and redemptive love. The second half of the paper analyses these claims in more detail.

Melissa Raphael (University of Gloucestershire)

Adverting to our Humanity: Judaism, Idol-Breaking and the Criticism of Alienation in Popular Visual Culture

 The criticism of idolatry (avodah zarah – literally, the worship of alien things) is widely considered to be Judaism’s defining moment. Even so, modern Judaism, has sought to distance itself from the ancient forms of the ban on idols that effectively weakens or breaks Jewish social connections with gentiles. Instead, it has celebrated the critique of idols as its most important contribution to world culture because it limits the power of people and ideas by insisting that things in the created order are natural objects of finite value and duration.  Although, to most contemporary ears, the ‘breaking of idols’ is more readily associated with religious vandalism and intolerance than with liberation, this paper offers a Jewish perspective on idol-breaking as an act of prophetic cultural criticism towards the overcoming of estrangement.  The paper will make links between a range of Jewish sources on the relationship between idolatry and alienation and certain techniques used by Jewish artists to produce a counter-idolatrous human appearance in order to mount a theological critique of those amortalised cosmetically and digitally perfected images - usually, but not exclusively, images of women - that increasingly populate the public visual domain.  The paper will conclude by suggesting how public culture might instead be invited to behold the divine image in images of the human. The paper will show slides of images that can be viewed as conveying the messianic perfectibility of the human as reconciled to God and to its own humanity; that represent a refusal of consumerism’s alienating aesthetic perfectionism and a celebration of the Second Commandment.

William Whyte (University of Oxford)

The Ethics of the Empty Church

The Church of England is responsible for more than 16,000 church buildings. It is in these buildings that many of tensions which come from being the established Church are played out. More than a quarter of them are grade I listed - an acknowledgment of their national, even international, importance. Yet many are decaying, and still more are barely functioning. As Church-attendance has declined, the fate of Church buildings has become precarious. This paper examines the question of the Church’s responsibility to its heritage, to the wider community, and to its own future. It will examine issues about conservation, the role of the Church in fostering social cohesion, and the use of the built environment in the Church’s wider mission. It will argue that the Church needs to rediscover the theological imperatives for Church building; and articulate a theology of Church closing too. 

George Zachariah (United Theological College, Bangalore, India)

"Occupy Theology: Re-imagining Public Theology at the Interface of Subaltern Social Movements in India" 

In a context where theology has become a guild discipline and a credentialed profession, preoccupied with defending orthodoxy in the midst of polyphony of alternative expressions of faith, it is imperative on us to re-imagine theology, informed by the witness of the subaltern social movements in the public sphere. It demands from us the courage to engage in methodological transgressions contesting the prevailing norms and non-negotiables of the guild theology. It is a creative journey of public witness where we construct the theological in our political involvement in the public sphere. 


An international conference organised by LTI, in association with:

Faith and Public Policy Forum, King's College London

Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics, Cambridge

McDonald Centre for Theology, Ethics and Public Policy, University of Oxford