The Interplay of Charity and Theology, c. 1700-1900

  • John Lansley

Student thesis: Phd


ABSTRACTUniversity of ManchesterJohn Waring LansleyDegree of Doctor of PhilosophyThe Interplay of Charity and Theology, c. 1700-19002010.The thesis follows the development of charity, both as a theological concept and as the activity of increasing number of social institutions, over two centuries. The main narrative of the thesis follows these two themes, but it also identifies other background factors, particularly developments in social history. It uses insights from anthropological gift theory, reflected in part in the concept of noblesse oblige, a standpoint which both demands support from the rich to the poor and legitimates social divisions: points frequently made in charity sermons. The thesis explores the development of theologies of charity, in particular in the writings of Butler, Wesley, Sumner, Chalmers, Maurice, and Westcott, and also considers the philosophy of J S Mill and T H Green. From these, it is argued that the key development in theoretical analyses of charity is a shift in discourse from an emphasis on the duty of the rich to behave charitably (as in Butler's concept of benevolence) to a concern with the outcome of such giving on the recipients of charity. This is first seen in the writings and practice of the early leaders of the evangelical revival who saw the poor as children of God, but also as being in need of moral reformation. With the advent of a Christian approach to economics based on the thinking of Malthus and Sumner, a harsher approach developed which saw charity as undermining a divinely ordered social economy and was expressed in the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834. The reaction against this led to a split in thinking about charity: on the one side a mix of economic theory, Comtean altruism and Greenian Idealism resulted in the growth of an autonomous, secular and professional approach to charity exemplified by C S Loch, and on the other a changing Christian approach to the position of the poor in society, going back to Maurice which was expressed in a call for justice rather than charity by the Christian Socialists of the late nineteenth century. Meanwhile, other political developments were resulting in a greater state involvement in what had hitherto been an independent field of charitable work, and resulted in very different patterns of welfare, in which charity took second place to state provision. The thesis ends by revisiting the split in discourse between givers and receivers of charity, and argues that both sides need to be considered in any theological discussion, including the need for recipients to be allowed to reciprocate to others.
Date of Award31 Dec 2010
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester


  • history of theology and charity; development of social policy; voluntary organisations; reciprocity
  • gift theory

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