Conference Announcement: Occupy the Issues (29 November 2012)

Occupy the Issues: Alternatives in Politics, Economics, and the Media

A Conference and a Seminar at the University of Edinburgh, Thursday, 29 November 2012



CTPI in conjunction with IASH and Ekklesia is proud to announce the Occupy the Issues conference and seminar to be held 29 November 2012, at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland.


A year ago, on 24 November 2011, the City of Edinburgh Council became the first governmental body in the world to officially recognize both the Occupy Edinburgh and the worldwide Occupy Movement. The tents are now gone, but the Occupy Movement continues and the issues remain. Scandals plague the media, politics, and our corporations, while the influence of big money within these sectors have left many questioning whether they can once again operate for the common good.

This day conference and seminar will examine the sectors of politics, economics, and the media. Inspired by the Occupy Movement, which has usefully shone a light into the plutocratic nature of our economic and political life, Occupy activists and expert speakers will examine questions of how we got into our present predicament, and what options might exist for moving toward a more equal, just, and peaceful society.

In accordance with the mission of CTPI, this conference and seminar seeks to highlight how Christian theology can make a constructive contribution to these debates. The Conference and seminar will offer papers from named speakers and offer plenty of time for conversation and debate from a range of perspectives.


The Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities (IASH)
The University of Edinburgh, Hope Park Square,
Edinburgh EH8 9NW (map)

Martin Hall
New College, Mound Place
Edinburgh EH1 2LX (map)

Registration and Enquiries


Free registration for the conference at IASH is by emailing your name, organization, and contact details to Also include any special dietary requirements for lunch. Or phone +44 (0)131 650 4671. Numbers are extremely limited.

The seminar at New College is open to the public on a first-come, first-served basis.

All other enquiries to organiser Richard Davis-


  • Simon Barrow, co-director of Ekklesia
  • Kathy Galloway, Head of Christian Aid Scotland
  • Prof Philip Goodchild, Professor of Religion and Philosophy, University of Nottingham, author of Theology of Money (2007)
  • Hannah Hofheinz, ThD student Harvard Divinity School, Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Boston, and Occupy AAR/SBL
  • Prof Jolyon Mitchell, Director of the Centre for Theology and Public Issues, University of Edinburgh, author of Media Violence and Christian Ethics (2007)
  • Prof Michael Northcott, Professor of Ethics, University of Edinburgh, author of Life After Debt – Christianity and Global Justice (1999) and An Angel Directs the Storm: Apocalyptic Religion and American Empire (2007)
  • Dr Paul-François Tremlett, Lecturer in Religious Studies, The Open University



10:15 to 15:30 at IASH

  • Welcome – Mr Richard Davis, CTPI
  • Setting the Scene – Mr Simon Barrow and speaker from Occupy Edinburgh
  • Faith & Occupy: Harvard Yard to Zuccotti Park – Ms Hannah Hofheinz, Occupy Wall Street
  • Politics – Prof Michael Northcott, Edinburgh
  • Media – Dr Paul-François Tremlett, London and Prof Jolyon Mitchell, Edinburgh
  • Economics – Prof Philip Goodchild, Nottingham

Public Seminar

16:10 to 17:30, Lecture Room 1, New College, followed by a drinks reception in Rainy Hall.

Chair: Dr Alison Elliot, Associate Director, CTPI


  • Rev Kathy Galloway, Christian Aid
  • Prof Philip Goodchild, University of Nottingham
  • Prof Michael Northcott, University of Edinburgh
  • Dr Paul-François Tremlett, Open University



Alison Elliot Seminar on Christian Faith and Civil Society


A seminar with Dr Alison Elliot
Old St Paul’s Church Hall, Jeffrey Street
Edinburgh EH1 1DH
Tuesday 1 November
Cost £5

This seminar builds on the interest aroused in a previous seminar in which Dr Alison Elliot gave a challenging perspective on the link between Christian faith and civil society. Alison will introduce three initiatives with which she has been associated: the Poverty Truth Commission, the Christie Commission and A Chance to Thrive. All focus on the importance of vibrant communities. She will discuss themes arising from this with Clare Radford, who is doing pioneering work as a community theologian in Glasgow.

Alison Elliot’s work straddles university, civil society and church. Formerly a lecturer in psychology, she is currently an Honorary Fellow at New College, University of Edinburgh, where she is Associate Director of the Centre for Theology and Public Issues. She has represented her church on many ecumenical and civic Bodies and is Convener of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations.

Image credit: “St Giles” by Martin J-N

Thursday Lecture: Graham Ward on Political Discipleship

You are warmly invited to hear Professor Graham Ward speak on ‘Political Discipleship’ on Thursday 13 October at 4.10pm in the Martin Hall, New College. This will be followed by a reception in the Rainy Hall.

Graham Ward is currently Professor of Contextual Theology and Ethics at the University of  Manchester. His appointment as Regius Professor of Divinity at the University of Oxford  is expected to take effect from 1 October 2012.  This public lecture is jointly sponsored  by the Theology and Ethics Subject Area and CTPI.

All are very welcome and no RSVP is required.

Professor Ward’s publications include:

Barth, Derrida and the language of theology (Cambridge University Press, 1995)
The Postmodern God: a Theological Reader  (editor, Blackwell, 1997)
Radical Orthodoxy: a New Theology (editor with John Milbank and Catherine Pickstock, Routledge, 1998)
Theology and Contemporary Critical Theory (Macmillan, 1996, 2nd edition 2000)
The Certeau Reader (editor, 2000)
Cities of God (Routledge, 2000)
True Religion (Blackwell, 2002)
The Blackwell Companion to Postmodern Theology (editor, Blackwell, 2004)
Cultural Transformation and Religious Practice (Cambridge University Press, 2004)
Christ and Culture (Blackwell, 2005)
Religion and Political Thought (editor with Michael Hoezl, Continuum, 2006)
The Politics of Discipleship: Becoming Postmaterial Citizens (Baker Academic, 2009)

Image credit
: Sivin Kit

Rev Dr Johnston McKay to Present 2011 Chalmers Lectures


The Kirk
The Kingdom

A Century of Tension in Scottish Social Theology

delivered by

Rev Dr Johnston McKay

17th, 18th, 20th
24th, 25th, 27th

Martin Hall
New College
University of Edinburgh

1 Mound Place
Edinburgh EH1 2LU 

LECTURE 1. SIGNS AND SIGNALS Stirrings of Social Criticism in the mid 19th-century Church in Scotland

LECTURE 2. KINGDOM AND CO-OPERATION Robert Flint’s Paradigm shifts the emphasis from Church to Kingdom

LECTURE 3. PREACHING AND PRACTICE The Church in Glasgow gives shape to Kingdom values

LECTURE 4. EXPLORATIONS AND EXTREMES United Free Church theologians are poles apart in their teaching of the Kingdom

LECTURE 5. DEBATES AND DIVISIONS The Theology of the Kingdom begins to unravel in the United Free Church General Assembly

LECTURE 6. RELEGATION AND REUNION The Kingdom of God becomes a useful tool in the moves towards the union of 1929

Annedore Wilmes on Peacebuilding in Bosnia-Herzegovina

Annedore Wilmes works as a research consultant on the Religion and the Prospects of a Truth and Reconciliation Process in Bosnia-Herzegovina project, which is under the umbrella of CTPI’s Religion and Ethics in the Making of War and Peace project (Relwar). Following her article on the arrest of Ratko Mladić in June, Public Faith asked her a few questions about her broader work in Sarajevo. In the interview, which can be accessed in full on our digital documents page, Wilmes gives an overview of Relwar’s work in Bosnia, discusses the current state of grassroots peacebuilding efforts there, and gives insight into continuing religious tensions and the difficulty faced by women and other vulnerable groups. Here are a few highlights:

On the Religion and the Prospects of a Truth and Reconciliation Process in Bosnia-Herzegovina project:

The project examines the impact of religion and the role of religious actors and communities, first, in the process of shaping and communicating accounts of what happened during the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH) in the 1990s, and second, in efforts to promote societal transformation and reconciliation in BiH. A primary focus is on differences of opinion over whether or not a local version of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission could play a useful role in bringing about transformation and reconciliation. The project engages some who believe religious stakeholders might play a role in a TRC, and with those who believe they should not.  

On the vitality of grassroots peacebuilding:

I have met many dedicated religious and non-religious peace practitioners working successfully ‘on the ground’ and facilitating actual change and transformation of individuals, groups and communities. There are people creating spaces outside the three (seemingly) homogeneous major public spheres and there are people bridging divides and clearly challenging the homogeneity of their respective ethnic and religious group in constructive ways, promoting resilience in the face of reoccurring political crisis. The results of this work are likely to appear threatening to those leaders on higher levels of state and religious hierarchies, who are anxious to not lose power, which means they will give only limited support, if at all.

On efforts to overcome religious conflict:

A couple of days ago I interviewed a Muslim from the city of Bugojno in the central part of BiH. He was reporting on projects he is engaged in which bring people, especially young Muslims, Serbian-Orthodox and Catholics together to get to know each other on a personal level and learn about each other’s religion and faith. At one point they were taking a trip to memorials, including the memorial of the genocide of Srebrenica—together. This is pioneering work. For some of the teenagers it was the first time that they actually met someone from the respective other religious community. Having said that, many people in BiH have always embraced views and traditions other than their own, including religious views.

 On women peacebuilders:

The ways women (and men) have responded to the violence, to the losses and threats they were facing, are manifold and this has influenced the ways the war has impacted their lives. Many stories of survivors include accounts of how women creatively and successfully shaped areas in their family and community lives which were just not part of their field of action in the patriarchic society they have been living in before their families were torn apart and husbands, brothers, uncles and fathers went to fight or were captured or killed.  

Please read the full interview transcript and share your thoughts in the comments.

Image Credit: Sanski Most by Annedore Wilmes.

Lesslie Newbigin on the Church and the Welfare State

Lesslie Newbigin‘s story has become legend to missionaries, ecumenists, theologians, and other Christians the world over. Sent out from the Edinburgh Presbytery as a missionary to India in 1936, he became a leader of the World Council of Churches in the 1960s. After retiring to England in the mid-1970s, he launched a sustained theological investigation into the idols of secularism and began to stir the western churches to see their post-Christendom context as a mission field.

Newbigin is not known as a political figure, but at a CTPI conference on “The Renewal of Social Vision” in 1989, he spoke out both against those who abuse the welfare state in the name of their individual “rights” and against the “Thatcherites” who would dismantle the welfare state in the name of individual “responsibility.” For Newbigin, rights without responsibility are facile, and responsibility without substantive community is meaningless. The welfare state can serve human rights, but only if its citizens are engaged in small-scale communities in which they learn concretely the meaning of responsible living. In this context, the churches–small ones, at least–are vital training centres for democratic citizenship.

Now more than twenty-years old, Newbigin’s short paper is perhaps more relevant than ever. He takes aim at individualism, the take-over of the state by corporations, and the megachurch phenomenon. He offers a vision of society rooted in strong local associations, yet protected by the welfare state. Above all, he urges the church to practice what it preaches before it calls others to account. We invite you to read Newbigin’s paper, reproduced below, and respond to it in the comments section.

Vision for the City

Lesslie Newbigin

I asked permission to attend this conference not because I had anything to contribute, but because I wanted to listen and learn. The thoughts I can share with you, for what they may be worth, arise from the experience of the last nine years during which I have been in pastoral charge of a small and struggling congregation of the United Reformed Church in the area of Winson Green, Birmingham–an area of multiple deprivation. In visiting from house to house I have been struck by the difference in attitude between those whose outlook was formed before 1940, and those who have been shaped by the Welfare State. The former have a strong sense of independence, a horror of getting into debt, a determination to ‘stand on their own feet’. The latter tend to take it for granted that the powers that be have the responsibility for looking after them. They speak of rights, rarely of responsibilities. I think that, on a very small scale, we are here in touch with one of the fundamental problems facing us. ‘Rights’ are mere myths unless you can identify the person or persons who are responsible for meeting the claim of right. Your rights are my responsibility, but who am I and who are you? If the responsibility rests only on ‘them’, the rights are myths.

The prophetic writers who inspired the vision of a welfare state had a deep sense of responsibility for the deprived. Their writings are filled with strong moral passion. Without that, the welfare state cannot stand.

I am tempted to become judgmental by two kinds of experience that I have had in recent years. One is the experience of talking with people who have become clever in working the system; the boy and girl who are co-habiting and occupy two council houses because it is financially advantageous. When I say: ‘Is it fair, when there are people sleeping in the streets?’, the answer is: ‘That’s not my responsibility’. The other is the experience of canvassing at election time in one of the leafier suburbs of Birmingham, and being told that the people in Winson Green are to blame for their own troubles; they are just a bunch of layabouts.

Here, of course, we touch upon one of the roots of Mrs Thatcher’s appeal, the negative image of the ‘dependent society’, set in contrast with the image of a society of responsible individuals who take responsibility for their own lives. It is futile to deny the element of strength in this appeal. But, of course, it has large potential elements of evil. It leads very easily, as we are seeing, to a selfish society in which words like ‘caring’ and ‘compassion’ have almost become dirty words in politics. They are, quite simply, ‘wet’. But we shall not successfully tackle the evil in this ideology if we do not recognise its elements of strength. Rights without responsibility are myths. Chanting myths does not make them true.

How do we tackle this falling apart of rights and responsibilities? In a small community, in the family for example, their mutual connection is obvious. We know at once when someone is claiming rights without taking responsibility. In a good family, children are  trained both in a proper independence and in a proper inter-dependence. In a good family, responsibility for one another is taken for granted. (It is one of the oddities of Thatcherism that it advocates the value of the family, precisely the community in which Thatcherite values do not operate).

How has it become possible for the Prime Minister to make such an astonishing statement as ‘There is no such thing as society’? Is this not clearly a product of the Enlightenment’s exaltation of the autonomous individual with his autonomous reason and conscience, as the centrepiece of our thinking? The corollary of this vision of the human person is the ‘collective’, the totality of these individuals. There is nothing between the individual and the collective. And the collective is not a moral subject, not an entity that can take responsibility. If we go down that road there’s no society. It is the vacuum between the individual and the collective which has to be filled for human flourishing. In a healthy society there is a great network of smaller communities, beginning with the family but extending to larger communities of neighbourhood and of common interest, through which we become truly persons in the image of the triune God whose being is in inter-relationship. It is in such communities of face-to-face meeting that the mutual linkage of rights and responsibilities is learned in practice.

Here, I think, is where we must be aware of the enormous potential damage that is being done to our society by the increasing centralisation of power in the state and in very large corporate bodies. But here also is the place where, as it seems to me, the role of the Church can be of crucial importance. I am thinking here of actual experience with a small congregation in Winson Green and the part it plays in developing this kind of living community. In the small group which worked on the theological chapter of  ‘Faith in the City of Birmingham’, one of the members remarked: ‘It is not the primary business of the Church to advocate a new social order; it is our primary business to be a new social order’. I think he was right. If one looks at the pronouncements of ecclesiastical bodies in the area of ‘Church and Society’, the dominant impression is that the Church is telling the State what to do, advising, exhorting, scolding. I do not deny that there is a proper place for this. But I think this ought not to be primary. It is law, not gospel.

The Church’s primary role is to be a sign and foretaste of a new order, and therefore to be able to point society towards that new order. A vision for society must be a matter not only of words but of illustrations. It is those who have tasted it who can be its advocates.

I am still thinking of Winson Green and its neighbourhood. Here let me speak not so much of the little flock with which I was connected, but of those Christian congregations which are among the most vibrant and effective in the inner cities. I mean the black-led churches. Their effectiveness stems from the fact that they are living a different story from that of the people among whom they live. They live the liberating story of the Bible. ‘We crossed the Red Sea with Moses and saw the armies of Egypt drowned. We were led through the desert by a pillar of cloud and fire. We were fed with manna in the wilderness. We were there when they crucified the Lord and we saw him when he rose from the tomb. This is our story, and it is the true story. In the end you will all know that it is the true story’.

When you live in that story you become a community of hope where there is no hope. You become a community of praise, with love to spare for others (and no welfare state can survive unless there are people in it with love to spare for others). You become a community of mutual acceptance, where each one is given the dignity of a member of the family. And so you become a community of mutual responsibility where rights do not have to be claimed because responsibilities are understood. And such a community is a place where the vision of a new society can become credible. If you believe that the real future is neither Brave New World, not 1984, nor nuclear disaster, but the holy city promised by God, lovely as a bride adorned for her husband, then you act now in ways which correspond to the real future. The community becomes the sign of a new order. Before it begins to talk about it, it is already a foretaste of it.

If I am right in thinking that the root of our sickness is the falling apart of rights and responsibilities, then I think that the place where we can learn in practice the right way of re-uniting them is in the experience of small communities and that in this respect churches can play a vital role. Please note that I am talking about small congregations. Jesus promised to be present where two or three are gathered in his name, and we have abundant proof of this faithfulness to that promise. I am not sure whether the promise applies when two or three thousand are gathered. The language of the New Testament addressed to the churches clearly envisages small communities where people can take real responsibility for one another. I am saying that it is when people are learning to enjoy the experience of life in real mutual responsibility on a small scale that they can speak with confidence and with effect to the wider society about rights and responsibilities. But all of this also presupposes that the Church as a whole is willing to challenge the public doctrine about the nature and destiny of the human person which has ruled our intellectual and practical life for the past three centuries.

I realise that I am not offering any recipe for a quick turn-round in national policy at the next general election. But I believe that it is as people are nurtured in local communities which experience and enjoy the life of caring and responsible relationships, and learn to sponsor and sustain all kinds of programmes for the development of their neighbourhoods, the way will be prepared for the extension of this experience to the life of the nation. And I am saying that the primary responsibility of the Church in relation to the renewal of vision for society is to be itself the sign and first fruit of a new order, to offer the good news that a different kind of life is possible before it offers advice about how it is to be achieved. The Church is in the business of communicating good news before it undertakes to give good advice. Of course the good news is incredible in terms of our contemporary ‘plausibility structure’. Who can believe that a crucified man is the lord of all? The only plausible hermeneutic of the gospel is a congregation that believes it and lives by it. When that hermeneutic is available, people find it possible to have a new vision for society and to know that the vision is more than a dream.

Image: “The Tower of the Guild of St Margaret Pattens — City of London” by Jim Linwood

From the Archives: Rowan Williams on Social Vision

The Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams recently created a stir with an article in the New Statesman in which he declared that “the political debate in the UK at the moment feels pretty stuck.” Williams demanded that the current coalition government go beyond localist platitudes and slogans to show how it would guarantee social provision for the most vulnerable members of UK society. He expressed particular concern over changes in health and education policy, suggesting that “we are being committed to radical, long-term policies for which no one voted.” The opposition, he claimed, seems bereft of any better ideas, and the political system in general appears beholden to the financial firms.

In this scenario, Williams argued, it is unclear what democracy means anymore. By contrast, a religious conception of democracy focuses on “sustainable community” and the “mutual creation of capacity”:

A democracy going beyond populism or majoritarianism but also beyond a Balkanised focus on the local that fixed in stone a variety of postcode lotteries; a democracy capable of real argument about shared needs and hopes and real generosity: any takers?

Williams’s rant has its defenders and its detractors–even the Prime Minister spoke out against it. It likely cost the Archbishop’s public affairs secretary his job. The article has also led reporters to dig through Williams’s political past, and when they did they came up with this:  “In a speech at Edinburgh University in 1989 he talked of ‘the alarming religiosity of Ronald Reagan … and Margaret Thatcher.'”

That quote is from Williams’s paper “Christian Resources for the Renewal of Vision,” which was delivered at a conference held by the Centre for Theology and Public Issues in January 1989. Williams’s paper, along with conference papers by Lesslie Newbigin, Raymond Plant and others, was published in the CTPI Occasional Papers series and is available on Google Books.

Two observations about the recent furore are worth making in light of Williams’s CTPI paper. First, Williams has sometimes been portrayed as a “radical Marxist.” But in his CTPI paper he strikes out against both liberal democracy and Marxist communism as unable to support genuine discussion about the fulfilment of human needs.

For Williams, both liberalism and Marxism are children of the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment, in his estimation, overthrew traditional religious understandings of the nature of human need, insisting instead that need is transparent to reason. But if need is wholly transparent to reason, then there is nothing to debate:

The paradox of modernity thus comes in the conclusion that there are no questions about the human good, no serious possibility of a self-moving criticism within our talk about humanity in general: we end up, in short, with demystification without accountability.

Marxism, far from being a solution to this problem, offers a parable of its excesses: in the Soviet Union dissenters were not merely shunned, they were sent for psychiatric treatment. Dissenters were regarded as irrational, because the secular state had determined definitively the rational good for each citizen.

This point brings us to the second observation that arises from Williams’s CTPI paper, namely, that his recent musings on religion and democracy in the New Statesman exhibit much continuity with his earlier thought, at least with his thought in the late 1980s.

The passage about Reagan and Thatcher is meant as a rejection of any attempt to sacralize the modern state. “The modern state,” he argues, “with its assumptions about defence and security and about the centralisation of power, is quintessentially secular.” Appeals to religion within the modern state only buttress state power.

The church and other religious bodies’ place in the modern state is rather as gadfly, always questioning and criticizing. Yet they also have the place, along with interested secular others (Williams gives special attention to the then-nascent Green Party), of working “to construct sensibilities and structures of human accountability.” They have the place–in 1989 as in 2011–of attempting to create a pluralistic moral community based on a genuine debate about the nature of the human good.

With these observations in mind, we invite you to read Williams’s speech and reflect on its continued salience (or otherwise) in the comments.

Image: Bishop Behind Bars, by Steve Punter.