Anglican Socialism and Welfare: John Milbank's 'Blue Socialist' thinking and the Church of England's approach to Welfare since 2008.

  • Joseph Forde

Student thesis: Phd


What approach should the Church of England take to welfare after the financial crash of 2008? This study answers that question by examining it through the lens of the Anglican Socialist tradition, with specific reference to the Blue Socialist thinking of John Milbank. By taking an uncommon approach to contemporary Contextual Theology, that uses historical source criticism as its primary research methodology, it analyses Anglican Socialists' theological perspectives on the state, and how they have contributed to shaping Church thinking on welfare, with a particular focus on Milbank. It examines the influence Milbank's thinking has had on the Church of England's approach to welfare since 2008; in particular, its handling of the 'Big Society' project following advice it received in a General Synod paper in 2010 (GS1804) from Malcolm Brown, its Director of Mission and Public Affairs, and it analyses the influences that shaped that advice. It is critical of the way GS1804 sought to align the Church's positioning on welfare, with the Blue Labour/Red Tory political phenomenon that Milbank's Christendom theology partly underpinned. In significant part, it attributes the favourable response the Church gave to the 'Big Society' project in 2010, 2011 and early 2012 to this. It argues that that response was a theo-political misjudgement, which compromised its ability to hold the Coalition Government to account for the failings of the 'Big Society' project during its first two years. It partly attributes this misjudgement to an inadequacy in its current thinking on the theology of the state, and invites clarification on this from the Church as part of a wider review of how it should engage with the state in the future. The study is the first analysis and critique of Milbank's Blue Socialist thinking on welfare vis-a -vis its influence within the Church of England. It concludes that the Church should learn lessons from its handling of the 'Big Society' project and the influence Milbank's thinking had on it, and return to shaping its approach to welfare around a defence of William Temple's Welfare Statist legacy, but remaining open to the need for ongoing modernisation of it. It should therefore be sceptical of the broad thrust of Milbank's Blue Socialist vision for determining the Church's role in the provision of welfare.
Date of Award6 Jan 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester


  • 'Big Society'
  • English Pluralism
  • Post-liberalism
  • Malcolm Brown.
  • Phillip Blond
  • William Temple
  • Church of England
  • David Nicholls
  • Red Tory
  • Anglican Social Theology
  • Christian Socialism
  • Anglican Socialism
  • Blue Labour
  • Blue Socialism
  • John Milbank
  • Welfare

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