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What kind of place is the Anglican parish? : A theological description

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

Despite being, for centuries, ‘the basic territorial unit in the organisation of this country’ (Pounds, 2000), the Anglican parish remains a remarkably neglected theme, rarely described in theological terms. This Research-Based Thesis undertakes such a description, underpinned by two related convictions: firstly, that the Church’s vision for parish ministry would be enhanced by what De Soja (1989) called the ‘reassertion of space’ in contemporary social theory – a movement that has received only limited application to the parish. Secondly, that the theology of place would equally benefit from comprehending the rich inheritance of spatial praxis invested in the parish system.

Having surveyed the interdisciplinary currents flowing into this theme, the first part of the thesis begins with a methodology that grounds place-formation in a dynamic cycle of ontology, revelation, tradition and vocation – a pattern, also, for the structure of this research. The second chapter explores the basis for viewing the parish in terms of ‘Christ in our place’, a significant theme in protestant Christology, but not often applied geographically. Building on this theological foundation, the thesis considers how recent developments in human geography enable the perception of parish as a spatial, ethical practice of ‘neighbourhood’.

The second part of the research weighs the parish’s theoretical description against its enduring historical role in English society. This ‘vocation’, it is argued, comprises a threefold call to nation, neighbourhood and nature: each being a form of ‘common ground’. The conclusion, having summarised these findings, addresses certain challenges facing the Anglican parish, proposing its renewal as a radical form of local belonging. An ethnographic case study, ‘Parish and Belonging in Oxted and Tandridge’, is included as an appendix, providing an important empirical accompaniment. At a time when its viability is increasingly questioned, it is hoped that this thesis will contribute towards future strategy for parochial ministry and the broader national conversation about ‘localism’ and cultural identity.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date2016


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