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Christian Intellectuals in Britain and the Challenge of Modernity, 1945–1963

There were many urgent discussions across Europe in the wake of the Second World War about the need to build new, “modern” societies. Christians – whether they were clergy or lay intellectuals – played active roles in such debates and sought ways of bringing the aims and practices of post-war social reconstruction in line with their faith. Tendencies towards secularisation in this period were often accompanied by principles that stood in competition with Christian worldviews, such as a faith in science and technology, a commitment to individualism and personal fulfilment, and the ideologies of the Cold War.

This project explores the confrontation of Christian intellectuals in post-war Britain with the key themes of what many Christians saw as “modernity”: “science and technology”, “sexuality and family life”, “mass communications and mass politics” and “capitalism and its critics”. The empirical focus is on representatives of the established Church of England, ecumenical intellectual circles and the Christian press. The time period under consideration stretches from the end of the Second World War to the publication in 1963 of the influential bestseller Honest to God (by the Anglican bishop John A.T. Robinson), which symbolised the transition to a new period of Christian intellectual history. The upheavals of the 1960s – particularly in the context of a dramatic secularisation – have been thoroughly researched; however, the period between 1945 and the early 1960s has received significantly less attention. In contrast to what is often seen as a conservative era, there were many signs in these years of a dynamic reorientation of British Christian perspectives on the sacred.