I’m fascinated by the way that modern cultures are shaped by myth. As a historian of 1960s Britain, I’m interested in how the myths of ‘the Sixties’ were invented, and how they influenced what people did. My current project focuses on the role of Christian commentators in inventing Britain’s ‘Sixties’, arguing that their significance has been overlooked due to the contemporary myth of ‘secularization’.
I completed my DPhil at Mansfield College, Oxford in 2013, and held lectureships at St John’s College, Lincoln College, and Plymouth University. In September 2015 I returned to Oxford to become Darby Fellow and Tutor in History at Lincoln College.
This article argues that the myth of ‘the sexual revolution’, increasingly accepted in Britain's national media between 1963 and 1967, played a central role in causing the real transformation of British sexual culture that occurred from the late 1960s. It also argues that Christian agency played an important role in the framing and the legitimation of this myth. Until 1963, British debates about sexual morality had been dominated by Christian arguments. In 1963 and 1964, the existence of a rapid, widespread, inexorable, secular, and antinomian transformation of sexual mores was prominently proclaimed by Christian commentators, who thought it an inevitable consequence of ‘secularization’, whereas secular commentators usually objected that this narrative was insufficiently evidenced. After its initial discussion in the mainstream media in 1965, the ‘sexual revolution’ narrative was increasingly articulated without explicit reference to Christianity, but it usually retained theologically inspired structural features inherited from earlier religious discussions. In the late 1960s, elite perceptions of inexorable sexual liberalization decisively legitimated rapid decensorship, wider access to the pill, and the reimagination of ‘normal’ sexual behaviour, thereby importantly shaping real popular change. In this way, Christian clergymen made a significant, early, unwitting, and hitherto unacknowledged contribution to Britain's sexual revolution.
CHRISTIANITY AND THE INVENTION OF THE SEXUAL REVOLUTION IN BRITAIN, 1963-1967
From Religion to Revolution: Theologies of Secularisation in the British Student Christian Movement, 1963-1973
Archbishop Fisher, 1945-1961: Church, State and World
Duncan Tanner Essay Prize Winner 2012 The Invention of a 'Secular Society'? Christianity and the Sudden Appearance of Secularization Discourses in the British National Media, 1961-4
I am interested in the religious dimensions of Britain’s ‘Sixties’, and how these affected British social and cultural development more broadly. My first article, which won Twentieth Century British History’s Duncan Tanner prize, showed that the sudden reimagination of Britain as a ‘secular society’ in the early 1960s was initially accomplished by Christians. My second, published in the Journal of Ecclesiastical History in 2015, showed that radical Christian groups made an early and significant contribution to British student radicalism. My third, published in the Historical Journal in 2016, argued that Christians made an early and important contribution to inventing Britain’s ‘sexual revolution’ in the mid-1960s.
My forthcoming monograph reconceptualises Britain’s ‘Sixties’ as an elite cultural invention, challenging the orthodox understanding of Britain’s ‘Sixties’ as a mass revolt. It argues that radical clergymen played an important early role in inventing the moral dimensions of Britain’s ‘Sixties’, but that this role has been overlooked because of the prevalence of the myth of ‘secularization’. The book has been provisionally accepted by OUP’s Oxford Historical Monographs series, and should be out in 2017 or 2018.