2022-23 | Exploring the Public Legitimacy of the Church of England

Image depicts the Saint Edwards Crown

Credit: Firebrace via Wikimedia

'Exploring the Public Legitimacy of the Church of England'


Knowledge Exchange Fellow
Professor Joshua Hordern   |   Faculty of Theology & Religion   |   University of Oxford

Partner Organisation
The Centre for Cultural Witness   |   Bishop Graham Tomlin, Director





This Knowledge Exchange Project establishes a relationship between Professor of Christian Ethics, Joshua Hordern and the newly-formed Centre for Cultural Witness (CCW), directed by Bishop Graham Tomlin and based at Lambeth Palace.

The focus is on exploring the public legitimacy of the Church of England: understanding and evaluating the rationale for the standing it has in English and UK public life.

Within our contemporary moment, the public legitimacy of the Church of England in England’s life and in the United Kingdom’s constitution and political life is being newly explored and questioned, inspiring multiple and complex responses. The recent death of HM Queen Elizabeth II and the upcoming Coronation of Charles III in May 2023 have brought to the surface some aspects of these concerns. However, there are many other dimensions of the Church of England’s public role to be considered, internationally, nationally and locally.

The partnership aims to enhance the Church of England’s thought, policy and public communication, with a focus on the contested legitimacy of its role in government, policy, and public life. Specific constitutional privileges are one proper focus and the project will engage with supporters and critics of the current establishment. Moreover, questions of constitutional legitimacy intersect with questions of moral and societal legitimacy, not least in the relationship between the Church of England, other Christian denominations and other faiths.

The partnership is expected to enhance research by giving a focused set of contemporary questions into contact with the theology, political thought and history which lies behind the Church of England’s public role. The project will evaluate the present state of public perceptions of the Church of England’s role in public life and assess the possible futures which lie ahead. A practical, forward-looking focus will be to collaborate with the Centre for Cultural Witness to produce material to support Church of England bishops to employ their voice and presence in the public sphere. With the complex background to the Church of England’s legitimacy in mind, the partnership will produce resources to support bishops’ in making responsible, effective contributions to public debate.

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