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
> 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.




  Political Theology and Urban Identities



 University of Manchester (April 24-25th 2015)



Bringing together theologians, social theorists and political activists, this two-day conference considers the relationship between cities and self-identity. Read through the lens of the Christian tradition, we will reflect on the ecclesiastical, doctrinal and political meanings produced by urban living.  Key to this enterprise is an exploration of the dimorphic nature of the city. From Babylon and Rome to Jerusalem and Augustine’s De Civitate Dei, urban spaces signify both sacred possibilities and moral dangers. The early monastic movement fled from the corruptions of the city, while the role of the urban bishop was highly political.  In contemporary culture these trends have been repeated in variants of both New Monasticism and 'Hipster Christianity' and 'Cafe Churches'. 

The enduring nature of these postures of embrace and retreat, raise significant questions for theo-political reflection. Can cities offer untapped resources for faithful discipleship? Or do urban spaces distort the priorities of the Church? Can the individualism(s) encouraged by the anonymity if the city supports Christians in developing alternative communities? Or is urban life a threat to the formation of such a counterculture? In postulating such a counterculture, what is the role of cyber-space in the formation of experimental Church-communities? And are new networked relationships transforming our understanding both civic identity and belonging? Can the cosmopolitan nature of the Internet help us to develop a sense of Catholicity or does it estrange us from the concrete and particular localities to which we belong?       

These questions necessarily gesture also at the pervasive antagonism between the urban and the rural. Is the rural a pre-condition for the production of the notion of city and the citizen? And what is the theological significance of such a relationship? For most in contemporary post-industrial societies, the countryside represents a romantic escape from the pressures of working-life. Yet, since the rural is also a 'working-space' (fraught with pressures and deprivations of its own) how should political theology treat such spaces? With these themes in mind, the conference organizers would welcome papers on the following areas:


The inner-city Church                                Discipleship and identity

 Persons in the city                                    Consumerism and leisure

 Urban planning and theology                  Nomad-ism and pilgrimage

 Networks and communities                     Post-materialism

 Urban and Rural Space                            Theologies of the Public and Private

 Christianity and Counterculture             Sacrament and consumption


Over the Two Days: The conference will attempt to frame an often contested and nebulous concept of the self by placing it in relation to the context of the city. What kinds of lives are we encouraged to have as city-dwellers (as opposed to those living in the country)? And who is really included in the concept of the city? These questions encompass matters of urban scarcity (bad housing, fragmented communities) but also urban possibilities (land trusts, public facilities and community-groups). Interwoven with these issues of access and equity are the range of identities possible and disallowed in the city. As customers, consumers and workers, urban citizens are invited to understand themselves as self-creating centres of meaning.

How might such self-descriptions relate to the Church's central claim that 'all is made new in Christ'? How is the newness of proclaimed by the Church to be compared and contrasted with the possibilities of the 'new' celebrated in the city? Contemporary movements like City of Sanctuary and Occupy suggest that there are now a series of counter-offensives against the city merely as a collection of consumers, and a return of the city as a place of moral ideals. What are the prospects for this alternative vision of the urban? And what obstacles stand in its way? Since the Church had an investment in some elements of this alternative vision, what does the Church really want to foster in the urban space? And what realistically can it foster? Given the Church's sometimes marginal status in public discourse, is there any way Christian communities can forward a theological vision of the city? In thinking and acting differently, there is the inescapable problem of strategy. Collaboration brings with it the force of reach and influence; it also carries with it the risk of obscuration and distillation. What can the Church do to remain a distinctive actor?   

Conference Schedule

Day 1 (24th April)

University Place 2.219, University of Manchester 

9:00-9:20: Tea and Coffee
9:20: Welcome and Introduction
9:30: 9:45 Keynote: Professor Timothy Gorringe: Grace and the City
10:45-11:45: Round Table Discussion: Do cities make us selfish?
12:00-1:15: Lunch (University Place 2.217)
1:15-2:45 Short Paper Sessions

Group One: City, Doctrine and Politics (4.213)

Public, political and liberative? In search of an urban christological politics (Al Barrett)

Caricatures in the City: The Form and Function of Character Types in the Book of Proverbs (Arthur J. Keefer)

 Reassembling Ekklesia (Greg Smith)

Group Two: Discipleship in the City (4.214)

The Perfect Storm of Callous Indifference: Contemporary Reflections on the Book of Amos (Tom Griffiths)

Reply:  WCA Action Group (10 minutes)

By the rivers of Babylondon: finding our soul in the heart of the city (Simon Cross)

Who is my neighbour?  What has Christian Discipleship got to say to city centre individualism? (Al Lowe)

2:50-3:20: Shuffle Break
3:20-4:30: Conversation: Does the Urban Self Diminish Nature? (Professor John Rodwell & Ruth Davis, Political Director of Greenpeace)
4:30-4:40: House-keeping, Information and Farewells
4: 40 Main Conference Proceedings End


Day Two (25th April) 

Samuel Alexander Building (A7)

9:00-9:45: Tea and Coffee
9:45: Welcome & Introduction
10:00-11:00: Dr Ethna Regan: 'Imagining Just Cities: the dialogue between theology and human rights.
11:20-11:30: Shuffle Break
11:30-1:00: Short Paper Sessions

Group One: Cities and Social Justice (A18)

Rough Sleepers and August Rioters through a Lacanian Lens (Charlie Pemberton)

Interrogating Transnational Public Sphere: Implications for Public Theology in the context of the Self and the City (Rajbharat Patta)

Is 'intersectionality' a valid framework for the analysis of oppression and identity in urban liberative theology? (Samantha Hallett)

Group Two: Being Urban, Being Human (A114)

Theology, Ecology, Anthropology: Jürgen Moltmann’s account of a humanity at home in God’s Creation (Anthony Floyd)

Naked life, self-transcendence, enemy love and peace for the city (Dr Roger Haydon Mitchell)

Usus Facti; A post-consumerism approach in Giorgio Agamben (Emilio Di Somma)

Group Three Re-Imagining the City (A104)

Early Christian Hospitality: The Apostolic Decree as a Statement of Mutual Christio-Ethnic Forgiveness (Aaron W. White)

People InSpired: citizens talking politics in English cathedrals (The Revd Canon Dr David Holgate)

1:00-2:00: Lunch: Samuel Alexander (North Foyer) 

2:00-3:00: Roundtable Discussion: Can Cities Produce Citizens? Dr Chris Shannahan, Dr Alana Vincent, Revd Dr Stephen Spencer
3:30: 3:45 Shuffle Break

3:45-4:45: Keynote: Professor Linda Woodhead: The urban, the rural, and the City of God
4:45-5:00: House-keeping, Information and Farewells
5:00: Conference ends


Keynote Speakers

Professor Linda Woodhead is presently at the University of Lancaster. Her work explores the changing face of contemporary religion in modern contexts. Central themes of her scholarly reflection include the importance for religion of changing gender relations, global consumer capitalism and new media, and the rise of an increasingly educated and expanding middle class. Moreover, she contends that we have entered a 'post-Reformation' era in the West, where religion in the 21st century is less doctrinal, centralised and priestly. In this capacity, she researches new forms of religiosity, many of which have to do with anchoring a sense of identity, reaching out to higher power(s), and securing meaning and significance in daily life. In the orbit of these interests Linda considers how older, established forms of religion and religious leadership are being challenged by these developments. Books include Everyday Lived Islam in Europe (2013), Religion and Change in Modern Britain (2012), A Sociology of Religious Emotion (2011), The Spiritual Revolution (2005), and A Very Short Introduction to Christianity (2004).


The Reverend Professor Timothy Gorringe worked in parishes for six years before going to South India to teach theology at the Tamil Nadu Theological Seminary, where he worked for seven years. On return to Britain he was for nine years Chaplain, Fellow and Tutor in Theology at St John's College, Oxford. In 1995 he became Reader in Contextual Theology at St Andrew's and in 1998 took up his present post as St Luke's Professor of Theological Studies. His academic interests focus on the interrelation between theology, social science, art and politics. His most recent books are The Common Good and the Global Emergency(CUP 2011) and Earthly Visions: Theology and the Challenges of Art (Yale 2011). He is at present working on a two year AHRC funded research project on the values which underpin constructive social change, focussing on the Transition Town Movement.



Dr Ethna Regan is presently working at the Mater Dei Institute in Dublin. For over a decade Ethna was a lecturer at the University of the West Indies, Trinidad. Her teaching and research has been significantly informed by this experience, particularly her involvement in with Credo Foundation for Justice- a non-governmental social justice and human rights organization. She also worked for five years in Samoa in the Pacific Islands. Her doctoral research at the University of Cambridge was on theology and human rights. She has published in the areas of Christian social ethics, liberation theology and theological anthropology, and is the author of Theology and the Boundary Discourse of Human Rights (Georgetown University Press, 2010) which won a 2011 Catholic Press Association Book Award. A native of Dublin, she has family roots in Roscommon.


 Other Participants

A priest of the Anglican Church for over 30 years, Professor John Rodwell is a full-time independent consultant on ecological matters. Recent projects include studies of European lowland grasslands  and of landscape-scale relationships between ecological and socio-economic functionality in the post-industrial setting. He also leads projects at the interface between nature and culture in the UK and Italy. His most recently completed project,  ‘Belonging and Heimat’, considered less quantifiable values of the natural environment and how people comprehend a sense of place, where humankind and nature can belong together. John is an honorary Research Fellow of the Lincoln Theological Institute. 

 Ruth Davis is a writer, campaigner, political analyst and conservationist with over twenty years' experience in the environment sector. She is an Associate Fellow of E3G (Third Generation Environmentalism) and a Political Advisor to Greenpeace UK. Her areas of interest include the relationship between environmental politics, social justice and the wider politics of the common good; and the importance of place and a love of nature in determining identity and fostering well-being. She has a degree in English, a diploma in Botanical Horticulture from Kew Gardens and an MSc in Plant Sciences. From1997 to 2001 she managed an extensive programme of conservation projects for Plantlife - the Wild Plant Conservation Charity - before joining the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, where she lead the Society's work on water and climate change. From 2009 to 2015 she was Political Director at Greenpeace UK, where she helped develop and implement campaigns on climate and energy, fair fishing and the protection of the Arctic. Ruth writes extensively about the philosophy, politics and practice of environmentalism, and was awarded an MBE for services to the environment in 2014. She recently contributed an essay on Nature, Science and the Politics of the Common Good to the collection, Blue Labour – Forging a New Politics.

Dr Chris Shannahan was a post-doctoral research fellow in Urban Theology on the three year Excluded Urban Youth and Religious Discourse in the Trans-local City project from 2009-2012, building on his PhD which developed a critique of British Urban Theology since 1970 and sought to map a new direction for the development of cross-cultural Urban Theologies in the 21st century. Chris’s most recent project was rooted in ethnographic fieldwork on a large housing estate in Birmingham, focuses on the impact that the experience of social exclusion has on the spiritualities of 16-24 year old urban youth and their use of implicit/explicit religious discourse. In particular he is interested in the ways in which graffiti art and rap music are used by socially excluded young men to explore and express identity and meaning. This is something he has recently been working on in the 'Bromford Dreams - Graffiti Spiritualities' project. He is presently Lecturer in Theology and Religion at the University of Manchester and facilitator of the Manchester Urban Theology Forum.

Dr Anna Rowlands is Lecturer in Contemporary Catholic Theology at the University of Durham. She is presently working on three research projects related to Catholic social teaching: on forced migration; on the financial crisis; and on comparing Anglican and Catholic social traditions. Before King’s, she worked for seven years in ministerial theological education at the Cambridge Theological Federation, where she was also an Affiliated Lecturer of the Divinity Faculty, University of Cambridge.  She teaches and writes on Political Theology, Moral Theology and Practical Theology and has a specialist interest in Catholic Social Thought. Her doctoral research offered the first doctoral level theological engagement with the work of Jewish social philosopher Gillian Rose, and she maintains and interest in the work of Rose, Hannah Arendt and Simone Weil. She is currently writing a book for theologians and policy makers on Catholic Social Teaching.

Revd Canon Stephen Spencer is presently Vicar of St Martin's, Brighouse, and St John's, Clifton, and Tanzania Link. Stephen studied theology and philosophy at Oxford and completed a doctorate on the philosophical foundations of Archbishop William Temple's social thought. He has been teaching historical theology since the late 1990's, mostly to those preparing for ministry in the Church of England and the Methodist Church, in Cumbria, Lancashire, Manchester and Yorkshire. He has taught the Yorkshire Ministry Course and the College of the Resurrection at Mirfield, and has held an associate lecturership at the University of Sheffield. His work seeks to provide maps of different areas of theology and history so that others engaged in ministry may gain orientation and a sense of direction in all that they do and are.

Dr Alana Vincent is presently Lecturer in Jewish Studies at the University of Chester. Her research explores the intersection between three key areas: the interdisciplinary study of theology and the arts, a general engagement with religious pluralism and comparative theology, and a specific expertise in modern Judaism. Prior to joining the staff at Chester in October 2012, she held posts as the Barbro Osher Research Fellow in Memory of Krister Stendahl at the Swedish Theological Institute in Jerusalem, and as a Rothschild Fellow in Jewish Studies at the University of Glasgow. She currently serve on the editorial board for Rodopi's Value Inquiry Book Series, the steering committee for the Religion, Holocaust and Genocide Group at the American Academy of Religion, and as the communications manager for the International Society for Religion, Literature and Culture.


Roundtable Discussions and Conversation:

Round Table Discussion: Do cities make us selfish?

Conversation: Does the Urban Self Diminish Nature?

Roundtable Discussion: Can Cities Produce Good Citizens?


Keynote Papers 

The urban, the rural, and the City of God

Professor Linda Woodhead

The Christian story begins in a garden but ends in a city. For various reasons which this paper will explore, the Christian imagination has always had a particularly strong link with the urban. In reality, however, the rural church has also been strong, not least in the UK – and remains so. Today the pagan (rural/rustic), the traditional enemy of the Christian, is in a phase of revival, partly in response to the degradation of the non-human world. Where does this leave urban and rural modes of Christianity? Must the former continue to dominate, or is the latter coming into its own? The underlying focus of the paper will be on Christian interplays with historically-shifting relations between the individual, the communal, and the ‘natural’.
Confirmed Short Papers


Is 'intersectionality' a valid framework for the analysis of oppression and identity in urban liberative theology?

Samantha Hallett, University of Manchester

This paper aims to demonstrate the value of intersectionality, a concept heavily utilized in Feminist, Queer, and disability studies, as a framework for political theology, compatible with the complex diversity of Urban life. For the last 30 years, academics from a range of disciplines have attempted to articulate and respond to the rapid evolution of urban diversity. Stephen Vertovec is one such scholar who argues that social science and wider public spheres tend to concentrate exclusively on race as means of diversity. (2007:1025) Super-diversity is Vertovec's (2007) attempt to express the multitude of diversity experienced in Urban life. I argue that 'super-diversity' highlights liberation theology's need to move away from one-dimensional analyses of oppression, and towards theologies which account for the interplay of oppressive factors contributing to identity.

Descriptive terms including super-diversity and multiculturalism partially contribute towards developing a framework to assess and inform urban theology. However, I volunteer Crenshaw's (1989) concept of intersectionality as a more practical and established framework for addressing the issue of multiple oppressions. This paper will adopt a comparative approach, establishing the value of the concepts 'super-diversity' and 'intersectionality' as methods of articulating urban diversity. I conclude that the interaction of intersectionality and super-diversity develops and enhances both terms, allowing an inclusive, super-diverse intersectionality, complex enough to represent the "diversification of diversity" in contemporary cities (Vertovec 2007: 1025).

Womanist theology is an example of an implicitly intersectional theology, stressing the importance of black theologians participating in the battle against sexism. Since all oppression is interlinked, black theology will not succeed until black women are liberated from multidimensional and bifocal oppression. (Douglas 1994) Using womanist theology as a case study, this paper demonstrates the importance of applying intersectionality, as both a framework and a value, to all urban theologies, without the fragmentation into isolated disciplines. Failure to recognise further categories of oppression faced by the community that urban theology aims to represent, results in a top-down approach, that liberation theology principally stands against. While oppression persists we are all oppressed. Liberation theology has begun articulate this, however, intersectionality must now take over. Intersectionality shows that the focus of liberation theology belongs with the most oppressed, namely those suffering a super-diversity of oppressions.


By the rivers of Babylondon: finding our soul in the heart of the city

Simon Cross

Christianity was born in the margins of the empire – and it still lives there today. While mega churches and conventional congregations experience the sort of social ‘uplift’ which sees them working ever upwards and outwards towards the suburbs and beyond, incarnational expressions of ekklesia have sought to dedicate themselves to living and serving at the heart of deprived, marginalised, urban communities. Life as a marginal is hard, it is countercultural, even counter intuitive. That being so, many have turned to time honoured ways and practises to sustain themselves spiritually, as individuals and as community, in order to maintain and nourish their commitment to place. While notions of ‘New Monasticism’ or even more so ‘Forest Church’ would appear to belong to an escapist move away from the realities of urban life, in fact this is not always so.

Radical commitment to place forms the heart of incarnational forms of New Monastic expression, and has done since this iteration of New Monasticism began in the 1930s. While some communities have sought to develop the ‘inner journey’ outside of an urban context, (sometimes rural, sometimes remote, often dispersed) many others have found that the only way they can sustain ‘life’ in urban Britain is to adopt ways of living which draw heavily on Monastic and religious life practises. Meanwhile the ‘Forest Church’ movement continues to grow in size and incorporates a variety of expressions which encourage the development of an ‘earthed’ spirituality – a reconnection of humanity with humus. Although rhetoric often involves looking back to the ‘pagani’ or ‘people of the countryside’ it also draws heavily upon the ideals of Celtic and other forms of monasticism; which founded communities that developed into many of the towns and cities we live in today.

Both of these forms of Christian expression reflect a counter cultural kind of Christianity. They seek to incarnate Christ in the heart of the empire, working toward the subversion, redemption or overthrow of ‘Babylondon’. Reflecting upon stories of New Monastic communities old and new, and drawing out threads of the Forest Church movement too, this paper will argue that these forms of apparently idealised or idealistic ways of being ekklesia neither shrink from the realities of contemporary urban society, nor embrace its corruption. Rather both manifest a means of ‘singing the Lord’s song in a strange land’ and to nourish the soul in the heart of the city.

Simon Cross works for the charity Oasis in the post-industrial, coastal town Grimsby. He and his family live on a large council estate which is characterised by extreme levels of social and economic deprivation. Simon is Chaplain to the Oasis Grimsby ‘Hub’, facilitates Oasis Church Grimsby, and works for Oasis UK developing resources and support for the wider Chaplaincy team. He has been involved in cross cultural and urban mission for over a decade, and with radical political activism for even longer.



Naked life, self-transcendence, enemy love and peace for the city

Dr Roger Haydon Mitchell, University of Lancaster

This paper is a positive response to the increasing post-liberal tendency within the various disciplines to move away from merely solving problems and correcting dysfunctions towards more prophylactic and transformative interventions into the deep structural roots of culture itself.  This trend will be exposed with reference to recent developments in medicine, psychology and peace studies where it can be seen to involve a return to issues of values, ethics and the common good. The current emphasis on new political space and the burgeoning re-emergence of political theology will be viewed as a corollary of these innovations as will contemporary examples of urban practitioners connecting temporarily or permanently to rural locations, desert fathers’ style, in order to find the space and time for reflection and research.

The paper proceeds to explore the possibilities emanating from a complementary reading of work done on naked life, self-transcendence, and enemy love for an innovative configuration of the self for the city. Beginning with a brief evaluation of Paulo Virno’s particular development of biopower as potential power in his Grammar of the Multitude, the paper proposes that the naked self, if activated, is replete with potential for the peace of the city.  Viktor Frankl and Abraham Maslow’s prescient counter-modern configuration of the liberal self beyond self-actualisation towards self-transcendence will then be briefly assessed for its capacity to escape reductionist evolutionary approaches to human development and substantiate the necessary motivation by which the bare self might escape what Giorgio Agamben describes as the prison camp of the contemporary biopolitical world.

Finally, the paper will investigate the capacity of a politics of enemy love to substantiate the fulness of self-transcendence commensurate with the testimony of Jesus as recently configured by such practitioner-theologians as Keith Hebden, Brad Jersak, Derek Flood and Brian Zahnd, and to provide a genuinely practical resource in a world where the violent enmity of extreme fanaticism is encroaching daily. It will conclude by contemplating the insight it adds to the questions raised by post-secular thinkers such as Alain Badiou and Simon Critchley. The former questions whether a politics of love is ever meaningful and the latter asks whether abandoning the utopian impulse is to imprison ourselves within the world as it is and to give up all hope, however slight, of discovering a world that might yet be.

Roger Haydon Mitchell is presently at the University of Lancaster. His work explores the development and testing of kenarchy, an inclusive, incarnational, love-based politics for peace.


Reassembling Ekklesia

Greg Smith, Associate Research Fellow William Temple Foundation

The dictionary definition of the Greek word ekklesia (which we translate as “church”, the French as eglise, the Welsh as Eglwys ) is a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place, an assembly . Some think the institutional church in the 21st Century is in the process of disintegrating and perhaps becoming extinct – this paper is an attempt to explore if there are countervailing processes at work, and whether it is possible to reassemble the church in contemporary urban society. The argument concentrates on the church in England, and develops case studies from the local urban priority area settings in which the author has worked for many years. However, one cannot ignore the impact of globalisation, in population movements, economic flows and electronic communication, and what Castells (1989) has called the “space of flows”.

Traditionally churches at the local level have taken the institutional form of the congregation, which gathers together (usually weekly on Sundays) to perform its primary function of worship. Congregations have been grouped together in competing denominations, each defined by social boundary processes, and distinctive doctrinal statements. The Church of England has some distinctive features as the national established, and publicly dominant church, and as a broad church with distinct parties defined by doctrine and liturgical practice. Even recent “Fresh Expressions” of church, church plants, and new independent churches, mostly fall into this congregation plus denomination institutional pattern.

However in our current period of rapid social and technological change, where religion has re-emerged with new political significance, so that many speak of post-secularity, profound changes in the institutional landscape are taking place. The climate of individualism brings new forms of personal identity and spirituality, while the emphasis on social networking has produced new patterns of local ecumenism, often around social action, and new partnerships and dialogues with local authorities. Urban churches, often alongside church schools, are increasingly important as welfare service providers and as a locus of community building. Yet often congregational life, measured by attendance at Sunday worship remains weak. One of our case studies from Lancashire suggests a radical reassembling of the church of Christ is taking place. As was said during one prayer meeting, “the walls of Jericho have been brought down… it is now time for the Nehemiah task of rebuilding not just defensive walls but a whole new City of God”.



Interrogating Transnational Public Sphere: Implications for Public Theology in the context of the Self and the City

Rajbharat Patta,

The term Transnational public sphere has been coined by Nancy Fraser, who has been one of the most outspoken political critical theoretician of 21st century and who has been deeply engaged in conceptualizing theories of justice, intertwining the importance of justice and democracy, which in her own words is understood as, parity of participation. Core to Fraser’s argument on transnational public sphere is her critical analysis of Jurgen Habermas’s public sphere, for she finds Habermasian Structural Transformation insufficient in defining the public sphere. According to her the publics correlate with modern territorial states and national imaginaries, and publicity was an implicit national subtext. Fraser re-imagines political space in a globalizing world and proposes that it should be a non-territorial-nation state, which she calls the ‘transnational public sphere.’

In this paper, I shall first present Habermas’ understanding of public sphere, and then shall present the critique of Fraser on Habermas’ public sphere, and shall highlight her contours of the transnational public sphere. In this paper I will also consider the implications of Fraser’s critique for public theology. By drawing out problematic tensions between globalisation and localism, I consider the degree to which cities (as global hubs) can sustain Christian ethical commitments of justice, care and solidarity in today’s context. In an effort to develop an account of the self in urban contexts, I illustrate the limitations of globalised conceptions of the public space from the perspective of the margins. Such limitation shall be carried on under the rubric of the three following areas:

 1. Transnational Public Sphere & Local Multiple Public Spheres

2. Transnational Public Sphere & Issues and Concepts of Power

3. Transnational Public Sphere & Counter Public Spheres

Therefore the implications for public theology are, to localize these ideas of transnational public sphere into the given contexts, and test on its relevance locally. As this new public is a constructed one, and not a given one, public theological contours will be explored.


People InSpired: citizens talking politics in English cathedrals

The Revd Canon Dr David Holgate

The forthcoming UK General Election has been destabilised by two factors: the way the Westminster elite ignored the Scottish referendum until the eleventh hour, and this being the first fixed term Election.  These have disrupted normal pre-election practices, and have both fostered a new participatory dynamic. This is a paradox, given that the social conditions of late modernity are said to cause political apathy. The 7 May Election is thus being held in a context of unprecedented fluidity following long spells of hegemony by the Conservative Party (1979-1997) and the Labour Party (1997-2010).  The unpopularity of the present coalition government does not resolve this, and there is widespread uncertainty about the outcome of the Election. This ‘liquid’ domestic political environment is located within a wider context of global political and economic instability.  

It is arguable that this unstable environment predisposes individual voters to feel powerless and either to withdraw from the political process in cynicism and apathy or to embrace protest voting.  This context also fosters ‘extremist’ responses that question the legitimacy of the whole political structure. 

In November 2014, representatives of a number of English cathedrals met to consider whether they could use their ‘spiritual capital’ to enable local people to discuss their political values with one another and with representatives of political parties.  The concept of ‘Citizens’ Parliament Conversations’ was born, and a small number of cathedrals agreed in principle to set up such conversations, using their buildings as safe spaces and their links with social networks to invite participation. Manchester Cathedral was the earliest adopter of the concept and invited people from Greater Manchester to two conversations in February and March.  At the first event small groups formulated their values and questions, and at the second they tested whether invited representatives of political parties could hear and share them. 

This paper outlines the process and evaluates the results of these conversations, noting which citizens particularly welcomed them and the extent to which party representatives were willing to engage in such ‘reverse hustings’. It concludes by considering whether cathedrals might need to respond to the post-election political context with further conversational initiatives.  The high level of satisfaction expressed by the participants suggests that urban citizens do need safe spaces for unguarded political discussion.

The Revd Canon Dr David Holgate is presently Canon for Theology and Mission at Manchester Cathedral


Who is my neighbour?  What has Christian Discipleship got to say to city centre individualism?

Al Lowe, PhD Candidate, University of Manchester 

The city centre gives a very particular understanding of city; one in which the age profile is heavily skewed towards the 18-45 year olds with particular ethnic mix, coupled with a staggering influx of daily “visitors” who come to work, shop or find leisure.  This paper considers how such a context lends itself to a focus on individualism and the loss of identity but one that is never truly focused on self.   It considers how Christian discipleship can be understood in terms of identity and what it is to be “in Christ” and by making reference to Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Graham Ward, it highlights how certain aspects of discipleship can be used to encourage individuals away from self and seen in terms of a wider group or community.  It goes on to show that in some ways discipleship can be seen as being individualistic in terms of the protestant theology of personal calling and salvation but it also highlights some of the areas of incompatibility between the understanding of discipleship and individualism, namely obedience and self sacrifice.  The paper concludes that a more fluid approach to our understanding of Christian discipleship may be an approach to facilitate a move from an individualistic self understanding towards one in which the self is less important than the whole.  



Usus Facti; A post-consumerism approach in Giorgio Agamben.

Emilio Di Somma, PhD Candidate, University of Aberdeen

The aim of this paper is to explore the concept of usus-facti both in its Franciscan origin and in the interpretation of Giorgio Agamben’s work “The Highest Poverty”. In The Highest Poverty, Giorgio Agamben describes the Franciscan concept of usus facti, the core concept of the rule of poverty for S. Francis, as: The simple use of the things as separated from their property, an abdicatio iuris that aimed to relinquish the legal property of goods without relinquish their use, so to achieve a perfect, Christian, common-life.

Their failed attempt was marked by the re-affirmation, by Pope John XXII (with the bull ad conditorem canonum), of the impossibility to separate the property from the consumption of goods. Agamben identifies, in John XXII reasoning, a prophetic paradigm for consumerist society: a simple non-legal use, impossible to obtain, and a consumption that implies always a property are the legal/ontological cores of mass-consumption societies. Moreover, mass consumption societies reveal the breaking point of this relation: the max amount of property is identified with the total consumption (that is, destruction) of the owned goods. Modern consumerism, through this logic, has encompassed the whole of human reality so that any aspect of human communities has become a declination of this relation of consumption, where every material or non-material thing can be considered a good, to be possessed and consumed.

However, Agamben seems to imply the possibility of a recovery, or at least of a change of paradigm in the western civilization. This precisely because of the new paradigm proposed by monastic orders, and the peak they reached in Franciscanism. Despite this failure, could the paradigm of usus-facti, of a life-in-community separated by the legal paradigm of possession still be possible? When other forms of social structure have reached their threshold of historical consumption, could it be the only safe place remained for western communities? The worthiness of such possibility is precisely the aim of this short exploration. 

Emilio Di Somma is presently a Doctoral student at the University of Aberdeen in the Dpartment of Divinity. He is undertaking a project entitled "Normativity: Nature, Narrative and Nihilism" under the supervision of Dr. Philip G. Zieger and Dr. Christopher C. Brittain.                                                                             


Public, political and liberative? In search of an urban christological politics

Al Barrett

Faith in the City was a landmark moment in UK urban theology – but one of the sharpest criticisms of the report (and Faithful Cities which followed it) was precisely the ‘thinness’ of its theology. Beginning from the assumption that Christian urban theology must be incarnational, which is to say, ultimately christological, I assess the possibilities and limitations in, on the one hand, the brief ‘christological pointers’ within two recent key texts in urban theology (from Chris Baker and Chris Shannahan) and, on the other, the extensive but somewhat ‘disconnected’ reflections on christology and the urban in the work of Graham Ward. Through my engagement with these texts, I argue that it is precisely at the intersection of ‘the individual’ and ‘the community’ that christology has most to offer contemporary urban theology. With the help of a Quaker theologian (Rachel Muers) and a non-Christian radical democrat (Romand Coles), I begin to develop an ‘interactive christology’ which seeks to offer the Christian church a theological resource for a politically-engaged receptivity, and, perhaps, a common ground on which ‘public’, ‘political’ and ‘liberation’ theology can speak, listen and act together in the contemporary city.

Al Barrett is Rector of Hodge Hill Church, East Birmingham. He is also a part-time PhD student, in search of an urban christology. Al has published book chapters on feminist theology and political liturgy, has led workshops on asset-based community development, and writes a blog at


Early Christian Hospitality: The Apostolic Decree as a Statement of Mutual Christio-Ethnic Forgiveness

Aaron W. White, Trinity College, Bristol

The Lukan account of the Apostolic Decree continues to be a conundrum for Lukan scholars.  Questions of its origin, purpose, meaning, and overall place in the Lukan narrative of Acts are puzzling.  However, shrouded in the mystery of the Decree is, in fact, a practical message of ethnic reconciliation for the church, today. My study seeks to re-examine the Apostolic Decree through a hermeneutic of hospitality.  It has long been suggested that the Apostolic Decree could be a Lukan version of the law of the resident alien found in Leviticus 17-18.  This suggestion seems correct.  However, instead of constructing a law for the Gentiles to follow, which would contradict his earlier reported words of Peter (Acts 15:10) and James (15:19), I submit that Luke, is actually reporting a decree aimed at hospitality for a church that is now for the first time officially multi-ethnic, and in the process of being integrated into a unified community; a multi-national and eschatological tent of David (15:16-18). 

In this study, I first establish the hermeneutic of hospitality as “forgiveness.”  Forgiveness as the lens through which to view hospitality is suggested by Ilsup Ahn (2010) as a better way, contrary to hospitality as “gift” (which is the traditional stance), since no debt or condition exists in forgiveness.  This method is integrally grounded in the LORD’s dealings with Israel in Dt. 5.  Secondly, I will examine the context of the report of the Apostolic Decree and ask who the stranger is and how the message of forgiveness found in Jesus the Messiah challenges old barriers, according to Acts.  Third, the Decree itself is explored.  Here, I review the debate concerning its origins and suggest its important likeness to the the law of the resident alien from Leviticus 17-18, and what this likeness meant for the newly multi-ethnic church.  Finally, the Apostolic Decree is applied, as read through a hermeneutic of hospitality, to current trends of church planting in mid-West Cities in the United States.

How the church meets “the other” in their setting and in their context, and how the church welcomes “the other” into its own is at the heart of the application of the Apostolic Decree in our day, and is at the heart of the Lukan appropriation of these stipulations  That is, at the heart of hospitality is reconciliation of one to the other, and at the heart of reconciliation is an old Israelite custom of divinely-originated forgiveness towards the full welcome of the “stranger [who is, so to speak] in a strange land.”

Aaron W. White, PhD. (candidate) Trinity College, Bristol New City Presbyterian Church, Hilliard, OH


Rough Sleepers and August Rioters through a Lacanian Lens

Charlie Pemberton, University of Manchester

In London, Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham rough sleepers reported violence and intimidation at the hand of the August Rioters. Rather than impose an exogenous interpretation which conceives of the Rioters within the schema ‘civility/criminality’ or ‘rich/poor’ (respective conservative and liberal interpretations) an analogous social phenomena presents itself for comparison, for violence and intimidation are a lamentably mundane aspect of rough sleepers experience. Taking quotidian violence as socially constitutive, this paper will, in Lacanian terms, suggest that the excluded are ‘heterogenous to a given ideological field and at the same time necessary for that field to achieve its closure’. Set in these terms, the August Rioters’ actions, expressed succinctly in their self-differentiation from rough sleepers, are notably prosaic. Not the actions of a disgruntled minority or pathological rabble but mimetic socially normative expressions of inter-subjectivity and personhood. A virulent example of the young people’s understanding of the norms currently circulated in (un)civil society.

Using Lacanian terms (object petit a, symptom, the masculine society), recent analysis of the Hegelian rabble (Frank Ruda) and capitalist/consumer production of poverty and identity, this paper will attempt to make cogent the aggression shown to rough sleeper by the August Rioters and a rioters response to the question ‘why are you doing this’, when he or she quoted L’Oreal’s ‘because I’m worth it’.

Charlie Pemberton, PhD Candidate, University of Manchester:


The Perfect Storm of Callous Indifference: Contemporary Reflections on the Book of Amos

Tom Griffiths

The 'Perfect Storm' is a popular US film - depicting the loss of all of the crew on a small fishing boat to a rare combination of freak weather conditions.  The Hollywood Hurricane was based on a book by Sebastian Junger describing a real-life fishing tragedy off the New England coastline.  In this paper, I adapt the meteorological imagery of the 'Perfect Storm' as a starting-point for uncovering the contemporary relevance of the Book of Amos. At the centre of this discussion will be the threats and challenges faced by the poor and disabled contemporary in Britain. The claims made by successive governments to be acting in the interests of the poor and disabled will be contrasted with Amos’ emphasis upon righteousness based upon justice.

By reviewing the prophetic descriptions of the 'stifling of compassion' and 'trampling on the heads of the poor' I set out to show the relevance of Amos in a climate of increased poverty, privatisation and benefit cuts. In a society where wealthier citizens actively 'oppress the righteous and 'deny justice to the oppressed' I ask, what a little-known shepherd from Tekoa teaches us about social justice. In the concluding part of the paper, I turn my attention to the hidden impact of an American-based Health Insurance ideology which is distorting the moral purpose of public services.  I  will suggest that the our callous indifference to the poor and disabled in our present discussions of welfare represents a 'Perfect Storm' of our own making – a combination of 'turning justice into bitterness' and the transformation of the "common good" into wealth for the few.      


Theology, Ecology, Anthropology: Jürgen Moltmann’s account of a humanity at home in God’s Creation

Anthony Floyd, University of Manchester

  Jürgen Moltmann’s theological anthropology centres on the notion of the imago dei which holds that the indissoluble worth of the life of each human individual is sealed by their likeness to their creator. This idea forms the basis of Moltmann’s theological response to the totalitarianism of the Reich which denied the humanity, and subjecthood, of the Jewish individual. Fundamentally, he wished to offer a theology that showed that even when the humanity of an individual, or a people, is denied by a political regime, those who suffer retain their fundamental worth and are promised eventual salvation in God’s Kingdom. The imago dei, then, forms the foundation of Moltmann’s theology of hope. However, humanity’s developing awareness of the potential environment consequences of human over-consumption presented theologians with a different kind of challenge.  The challenge of how humanity could live together in harmony with each other was complicated by a growing awareness of our pressing need to also live in harmony with our environment.   

Totalitarian regimes may present a more immediate threat to human life than environmental degradation, but the latter seems to threaten a more final end, and more intractable conceptual problem. Moltmann argues that over-consumption has its roots Renaissance philosophy, specifically the thought of Descartes. Moltmann argues that Cartesian thought provided the template for a harmful instrumentalisation of the environment. Human perfection was said  to lie in the development of their reason and the marshalling of that reason, through technology, to control their environment, thus imitating God’s universal mastery.  The environment was something to be actively mastered and possessed rather than respectfully inhabited. ‘This dangerous assertion, Moltmann argues, lies at the heart of the environmental, and existential crisis, consuming humanity in the modern age.

Moltmann responded to this challenge by formulating a theological anthropology founded on the idea that the humanity possesses messianic potential: the potential to rule over creation in a manner that brings glory to the creator of both humanity and our environment, God. In order to realise this potential, Moltmann argued, the imago dei, humanity’s likeness to God must be held in tension with the imago mundi, humanity’s fundamental likeness to its environment. This paper aims to explore the development of Moltmann’s anthropology and to draw out the resources that his ecologically charged anthropology offers us for reconsidering our relationship with our environment.

Anthony Floyd completed a BA in Religions and Theology and an MA in Religion and Political Life at the University of Manchester and is in the second year of doctoral research under the supervision of Professor Peter Scott. His research focuses on the role which Western Consumerism plays in the degradation of the environment and the role which theology can play in promoting environmental conservation


Caricatures in the City: The Form and Function of Character Types in the Book of Proverbs

Arthur J. Keefer University of Cambridge, PhD (candidate)

Much of the biblical Wisdom Literature assumes or casts itself in an urban context. The books of Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and many of the Psalms portray self-identity through binary anthropology, contrasting the “wicked” and the “righteous” or the “wise” and the “fool.” The dimorphic nature of the city revolves around these characters, and each book explores the sacred possibilities and moral dangers associated with them. Thus, Job’s friends represent an over-certain and often simplistic theological “orthodoxy.” In Proverbs, the “fool” rejects instruction and wisdom’s starting point, while the “wise person” embodies the possibility of listening, learning, and enacting an ever increasing life of wisdom. Psalms displays the “righteous” as the ideal worshipper of Jerusalem in contrast to the “wicked” congregants.

In this paper, I will argue that the dimorphic nature of the Wisdom Literature in the Hebrew Bible is portrayed by means of character types. Because Proverbs features these types with most regularity and detail, I will focus on the book to determine what these types are and how they function. Proverbs reveals that the variety of characters divide into two primary groups—the good and the bad—which embody the sacred possibilities and moral dangers of the city. The characters reflect idealized vices and virtues with a focus on character that includes not only morality but fundamental intellectual and theological postures. The characters produce meaning through their function as literary caricatures. Each character embodies an exaggerated extreme of moral and intellectual traits, by which the author intends to shape the self-identity of the reader. These findings are significant for the self and the city. For Proverbs informs issues of identity within the city through its vision and function of these character types. According to the Wisdom Literature, identity is a matter of character that incorporates moral and theological danger as well as potential. Furthermore, character produces meaning through its pedagogical function. Thus Proverbs envisions a city populated with the wise and foolish, who in literature and real life form the character of its inhabitants.


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