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Political-theology book wins Ramsey Prize

31 May 2013

by Rachel Boulding


The winner is . . . : Lord Williams awards the Michael Ramsey Prize to Luke Bretherton

The winner is . . . : Lord Williams awards the Michael Ramsey Prize to Luke Bretherton

THE Michael Ramsey Prize for Theological Writing 2013 has been awarded to Dr Luke Bretherton for his book Christianity and Contemporary Politics, published by Wiley-Blackwell, it was announced this week ( Books, 24 May).

The prize was presented by the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Williams of Oystermouth at the Telegraph Hay Festival on Tuesday. Dr Bretherton, who is now the Associate Professor of Theological Ethics at Duke University Divinity School in the United States, was formerly Reader in Theology and Politics at King's College, London. His book was described by Lord Williams as "a finely argued theological take on the situation we face, based on practical examples and resources".

On receiving the prize, Dr Bretherton said: "My book was born of a deep pastoral concern about how the Church can faithfully navigate contemporary political life." He described his hope of giving "people tools and understanding in discerning the relationship between Christian commitments and social, political, and economic concerns".

Of the six shortlisted titles, Lord Williams said: "We were deeply impressed with the level of sophisticated engagement with the challenges and anxieties of the world we are in. Every contribution has encouraged theological confidence, which is what we want the prize to do."

The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Revd Justin Welby, commented this week: "I am delighted that Rowan has agreed to continue his excellent initiative this year, the Michael Ramsey Prize. Equipping ordinary Christians, as well as church leaders and thinkers, with a sound intellectual basis to their faith is more important than ever in this age where Christianity is so often challenged by aggressive secularism."

In his Church Times review of Christianity and Contemporary Politics, the Revd Professor Michael Northcott wrote of how Dr Bretherton had established himself "as a leading figure in political theology by giving a profound synthetic account of political theology and theology" ( Books, 25 June 2010).

Dr Bretherton has commented that he wrote the book in response to "questions that repeatedly came up among those I worked with, whether they were students, clergy, those working with faith-based organisations, or Christians directly engaged in public life". He described such questions as being "related to how to make sense of and faithfully engage with politics by, on the one hand, not compromising Christian beliefs and practice, and, on the other, building a common life with non-Christian others".

On Tuesday, Dr Bretherton said that he was "very, very surprised" to have won. He had thought that the Revd John Gillibrand's book Disabled Church - Disabled Society might get the award, as it was "beautifully written, and about a key pastoral area".

His own book was written out of pastoral concern, with the intention of equipping those who were "struggling to connect theology with social policy". It is an attempt to enable those engaged in faith-based social action both to think practically about how they can interact with others - other-faith groups and organisations such as local councils - and also to reflect theologically and critically about what they are doing.

He addresses questions for church projects such as the conditions that might be attached to accepting state funding, and the Christian ethos of social projects that reach across the whole community.

He hopes that the prize will give the book a higher profile so that the "key audience" of "church leaders and people engaged in public life will be stimulated to read it".

Dr Bretherton, who is originally from Ladbroke Grove in west London, is 44 and married, with two young sons. He says that he hopes to return to Britain in due course. He has won £10,000 and an original artwork, a mosaic plaque made by Dee Hardwicke. The other five shortlisted authors have been awarded £1000 each.


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