Charity, Homelessness, and the Doctrine of Creation

  • Charles Pemberton

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis explores Gustavo Gutiérrez‟s and John Milbank‟s articulations of the doctrine of creation, with a view to developing a criterion that can be used to inform our understanding and evaluation of Christian charities that address homelessness and operate in contemporary British civil society. Milbank and Gutiérrez‟s works both ask questions of the peace or life that can be instituted through charitable practices. They also develop, from the doctrine of creation, their own theological accounts of social and political orders, normative anthropologies, and accounts of the interpersonal. For both Milbank and Gutiérrez, the doctrine of creation maintains a paradox: the internality and externality of the created world in relation to God. Part One of this thesis explores these respective accounts of charity and creation, noting the strengths and limitations of each position. Part One ends with a qualified endorsement of Gutiérrez‟s theology and defends the utility of the criterion he deploys in his work to judge the task of theology and praxis of the church: integral liberation.The second part of this thesis progresses in three steps. First, I put forward a theological methodology which is attentive to the logic of theo-political language and our current neoliberal socio-political order. I argue that it is prudent to think of political theology as a counter-hegemonic discourse, and in dialogue with Ernesto Laclau and Chantel Mouffe, Francis Schüssler Fiorenza and Gutiérrez, I explore and endorse political theology as spiral in character. I go on to extend Laclau and Mouffe‟s analysis of neoliberalism by developing and defending the hypothesis: 'charities are dual'. By engaging with the work of Frank Prochaska, this section argues that charities are both religious and political, as well as being both internal and external to the state apparatus. Furthermore, I contend that charities constitute and ameliorate the social exclusion attributed to homelessness, and that selfless giving, under the current circumstances, is internal to a process of volunteer self-making. By attending to the dualities of homelessness charities, this part of the thesis sets charities in their current context and proposes an elective affinity between current charitable practices and the hegemony of neoliberalism.At the end of the thesis, I return to the doctrine of creation and ask how attention to this doctrinal locus can help us to move homelessness charities beyond their dependence on the existence of homeless people, and their embeddedness in our current neoliberal arrangement. I argue that charities, and civil society more broadly, have an important role to play in envisioning and establishing a theo-politics of common life.To do so, I contend that we need to articulate a robust account of the role of the state, must defend human rights, nurture egalitarian and non-hierarchical charitable practices, be attentive to what the homeless can teach charities and volunteers about our current order, and reform aspects of charitable law. In each of these cases, I defend a paradoxical politics of integral liberation. In summary, this thesis aims to make an original contribution to the growing body of literature that explores homelessness and theology by coordinating the paradox of creation, the duality of charity, and the double truths of neoliberalism.
Date of Award1 Aug 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorPeter Scott (Supervisor) & Chris Shannahan (Supervisor)


  • Liberation Theology
  • Radical Orthodoxy
  • Doctrine of Creation
  • Social Exclusion
  • Neoliberalism
  • Homelessness
  • Charity
  • Political Theology

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