Dr Joshua Bennett

  • History of social science
  • Historiography 
  • History of religion since 1800  

My first monograph, God and Progress: Religion and History in British Intellectual Culture, 1845-1914, reconstructs the close relationship between religion and historical debate in nineteenth-century Britain. Providential and spiritual understandings of time, I argue, underpinned the growing cultural authority of developmental and progressive historicism in Victorian intellectual culture. The conventional centre of British intellectual life, rooted in ancient universities, nonconformist academies, and the higher journalism, connectedly came to understand progress in the history of civilisation as rooted in, and as leading to, the gradual purification of Christianity. A secular counter-culture, meanwhile, insisted that historical progress derived instead from the steady retreat of metaphysics and the advance of scientific method. The book thus restores the centrality of theological debate to its original place at the heart of the Victorian liberal imagination. It also draws out the transformative impact of German Idealism in shaping Victorian understandings of the past.

My new book project seeks to place in context a different, but intimately related story in intellectual history: the rise of social science to a position of far-reaching cultural authority within progressive intellectual culture in Britain, Western Europe, and the United States, between approximately 1870 and 1930. I am interested in exploring the relationship between liberalism and social theory, across transnational intellectual networks, in an age more usually associated with a swing to intellectual and political extremes.  A new generation of advanced intellectuals, disenchanted but still deeply engaged with the metaphysical and historicist fashions of the nineteenth century, sought to develop and institutionalise secular kinds of social theory as alternative ways of solving contemporary moral, social, and international problems. A focus on these thinkers reveals a world of debate about ethics, religion, gender, race, and international order which prepared the way for post-1945 developments.

Alongside this research, I remain interested in the history of nineteenth-century religion and historiography. Among other projects, I am writing chapters for three major collaborative series: The Bloomsbury Cultural History of the Bible; The Oxford History of Modern German Theology; and The Cambridge History of the Papacy.       




Featured Publication
God and Progress: Religion and History in British Intellectual Culture, 1845 - 1914

God and Progress: Religion and History in British Intellectual Culture, 1845 - 1914 (Oxford University Press, 2019)

Exploring the rich relationship between historical thought and religious debate in Victorian culture, this book offers a unique and authoritative account of intellectual change in nineteenth-century Britain. The volume recovers a twofold process in which the growth of progressive ideas of history transformed British Protestant traditions, as religious debate, in turn, profoundly shaped Victorian ideas of history. It adopts a remarkably wide contextual perspective, embracing believers and unbelievers, Anglicans and nonconformists, and writers from different parts of the British Isles, fully situating British debates in relation to their European and especially German Idealist surroundings. The Victorian intellectual mainstream came to terms with religious diversity, changing ethical sensibilities, and new kinds of knowledge by encouraging providential, spiritualized, and developmental understandings of human time. A secular counter-culture simultaneously disturbed this complex consensus, grounding progress in appeals to scientific advances and the retreat of metaphysics. The book thus explores the ways in which divisions within British liberalism were fundamentally related to differences over the past, present, and future of religion. It also demonstrates that religious debate powered the process by which historicism acquired cultural authority in Victorian national life, and later began to lose it. The study reconstructs the ways in which theological dynamics, often relegated to the margins of nineteenth-century British intellectual history, effectively forged its leading patterns.



  • August Neander and the religion of history in the nineteenth-century 'priesthood of letters'

  • Interpretation and Theology

  • God and Progress Religion and History in British Intellectual Culture, 1845 - 1914


  • The age of Athanasius: the Church of England and the Athanasian Creed, 1870-1873


I currently teach:

Prelims: FHS: Masters:


Intellect and Culture in Victorian Britain

MSt/MPhil Theory and Methods

British History 1830-1951

British History 1815-1924

European and World History 1815-1914 Thesis supervision