christianity and history forum
Residential Conference, Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre,Offa House, Tuesday 2 to Thursday 4, 2013  History and Theology in a ‘Secular Age’.

Some comments from participants:

‘I really enjoyed the conference and the chance to talk about faith and academic issues with like-minded people. The atmosphere of these conferences, and the space left for prayer, brings something different that I really value. The talks were stimulating, and opened up some really good avenues for discussion.’

‘It was very positive and stimulating. The only downside was the absence of graduate students.’

‘A splendid conference, some sterling and thought-provoking papers, and great fellowship in very comfortable surroundings.’

‘It was a great conference… I enjoyed the range of talks, although I sometimes wonder if we Evangelicals are too self-absorbed. Is there non-one interested in the 1000 years between 500 and 1500?  One thing which stayed with me is the sheer comfort of the Quaker centre, with its heated rooms and varied cuisine.’

‘John Coffey’s paper was a splendid taster for his forthcoming monograph on the use of Exodus in liberation movements from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries.’

‘I found Martin Wellings’ contribution more profound as I thought about it, and a very helpful summary of many previous debates. Stan’s talk reminded us that we forget the differences between other times and today, and the importance of considering the context in which teaching took place… I missed the graduates who are doing new research, but it was good to meet up.’

‘Speakers should be encouraged to use modern technology in their presentations, particularly PowerPoint.  This was one reason why John Coffey's paper was so effective.’

Report on the Conference

Between 2-4 April, nearly two dozen historians met together for the bi-annual CHF Conference.  The Quaker Woodbrooke Study Centre in Selly Oak, Birmingham, accommodated us at short notice because of the closure of Offa House.  The flexibility, help, and care of the staff and volunteers, along with the high standard of food and the pleasant facilities, contributed to the success of the occasion.  One of the good things about CHF is the mix of members, ranging through full-time and part-time academics, retired historians and teachers to ministers who are also historians.

We were treated to some outstanding papers, and there was time for both formal and informal discussions.  Proceedings were launched on Tuesday afternoon on Tuesday with a paper from Martin Wellings called ‘Paddling in the “Ugly Ditch”: Reflections on the Relationship between Theology and History’ which introduced the theme in a useful and stimulating manner.   After dinner there was a roundtable discussion of Mark Hutchinson and John Wolffe’s new book, ‘A Short History of Global Evangelicalism’  in which four participants offered thoughts and reflections on the book, followed by some general discussion and a response from John, who noted some points down for consideration in a second edition.

On Wednesday morning we had two outstanding papers.  ‘Getting beyond the books: The Historical and Oral Context of Early Christian Theology’ from Stan Rosenberg explored Augustine’s sermons, and I certainly gained some fresh insight into Augustine and into the place of sermons in primarily oral cultures.   He was followed, after a break, by John Coffey whose paper ‘When History meets Theology: Personal Reflections on Protestant Exodus Politics’ was related to his forthcoming book on the use of the Exodus story in Anglo-American society from the seventeenth century onwards.     A afternoon break for resting, reading, or exploring the neighbourhood was followed by a significant paper from Eugenio Biagini  ‘In what ways can Christians make a Distinctive Contribution to the Writing of “Secular” History?’ in which he explored the interface between theology and history, suggesting an approach that might be appropriate for historians.   Some lively discussion followed.     The evening session consisted of some updates on various projects some members were engaged with, but we were noticeably flagging by then!  

Thursday morning brought three work in progress papers from David Killingray, Iain Taylor and Linda Wilson, not related to the conference theme but examples of ongoing research.  The final paper was from our chairman, John Wolfe, ‘Integrating Historical and Contemporary Research on Religious Conflict’, a paper first given elsewhere, outlining examples of how historical research on specific issues of conflict can help to illuminate the current situation. The examples he gave in which an awareness of history could give understanding of the complexities of a situation included the development of Islamophobia, in which the sense of the religious ‘other’ has been transferred from Catholicism to Islam, and the Northern Ireland situation. Once again the paper was followed by some engaged discussion.  I think most of the participants found the conference a useful and stimulating time: I certainly did.

Linda Wilson

Offa House April 2013
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