Christopher Craig Brittain is Professor of Social and Political Theology at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. His primary research interest is in contemporary Christianity, which he explores from a variety of differing perspectives and concerns.
At the theoretical level,he is interested in the ongoing debates within Christian theology over how Christian churches relate externally to the communities outside them—both in their secular and multi-faith varieties. He approaches this question by analysing the theological writing of key contemporary theologians who wrestle with these issues (e.g. John Milbank, Latin American liberation theology, William Cavanaugh), as well as influential non-Christian theorists on the same general concerns (e.g. Talal Asad, William Connolly, Seyla Benhabib, Jeffrey Stout). He has published critical articles on Milbank and Asad, and continues to research the concepts of “secularism” and “political theology” in depth.
At the sociological level, he studies how the tensions inherent to contemporary social and political life impact on the internal dynamics of Christian communities. This element of this research activity is intent on analysing the differing ways in which Christian communities respond to the challenges emerging within their specific contexts, as well as to the ways in which these same communities react to, or cope with, the pressures of being shaped by their environment. In pursuit of such questions, he has published an article analysing theological debates over homosexuality in the Anglican Communion (“Confession Obsession”), and is now engaged in a series of field research projects to deepen this analysis of the experience of contemporary Anglican congregations and individuals. He has written two articles for publication on this research with a sociologist in Aberdeen (Dr. Andrew McKinnon) and hastwo individual articles planned for 2011. He and Dr. McKinnon and intend to begin work on a monograph on the dispute in the Anglican Communion in the near future.
At the cultural level, he is interested in the complicated dynamics involved in Christian responses to human tragedy and historical traumas (and those of other religious groups more generally). Numerous contemporary social theorists and theologians are alert to the fact that, in a context shaped by globalization and political terrorism, religion as a social and political phenomenon is often interwoven with nationalism, ideology, and violence. These issues have historically had a major impact and influence on Christian thought and practice. He recently completed a monograph entitled, Religion at Ground Zero, which explores the impact of historical trauma on Christian thought. It analyzes reactions to disasters that range from the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, the First World War, the Holocaust, 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and the Haitian earthquake of 2010.
Brittain’s methodological approach is informed by the early writings of the “Frankfurt School,” particularly those of Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer. Their attempt to develop an interdisciplinary form of social theory — which brings together social scientific empirical research (qualitative and quantitative), philosophy, psychology, and moral engagement with current social problems — continues to represent a rich perspective with which to approach the study of contemporary Christianity. For this reason, he has published work on a neglected area in the scholarly literature on the thought of the Frankfurt School – their interest in religion. This has taken the form of some individual articles, and a monograph: Adorno and Theology. The three inter-related approaches to contemporary Christianity (theoretical, sociological, cultural) enable him to explore some deep and influential dynamics within Christianity in particular, and religion more generally.
McKinnon M, Trzebiatowska M and Brittain CC (2011) Bourdieu, Capital and Conflict in a Religious Field: The Case of the Anglican Communion? Journal of Contemporary Religion 26(3): 355-370.
Brittain CC (2007) Can a Theology Student be an Evil Genius? on the concept of habitus in theological Education, Scottish Journal of Theology vol 60 (4): 426-440. (* reprinted in Toronto Journal of Theology in 2009).
McKinnon, A. & Brittain, CC. (2016). ‘Anglicans in a globalizing world: the contradictions of Communion’. in A Day (ed.), Contemporary Issues in the Worldwide Anglican Communion: Powers and Pieties. Ashgate Contemporary Ecclesiology, Ashgate.
Brittain, CC. (2015). ‘Adorno’s Debt to Paul Tillich?: On Parataxical Theology’. in G Schreiber & H Schultz (eds), Kritische Theologie: Paul Tillich in Frankfurt (1929-1933). Walter de Gruyter, Berlin/Boston, pp. 343-360.
Brittain, CC (2013) ‘Washing his Hands of the Enlightenment: a Critique of John Milbank’. In: Nowers J & Medina N (eds), Theology and the Crisis of Engagement: Essays on the Relationship of Theology and the Social Sciences. Pickwick Press, pp.58-76.
Brittain CC (2011) Ethnography as Ecclesial Attentiveness and Critical Reflexivity: fieldwork and the dispute over homosexuality in The Episcopal Church. In: Scharen C (ed) Church and Culture: A ReaderStudies in Ecclesiology and Ethnography, Vol. 2. Eerdmans.
Brittain CC (2011) Against Eschatological Overdetermination: on Theology and Sociology. In: Brittain CC and Murphy M (eds) Theology, University, Humanities: Inititium Sapientiae Timor Dominum. Wipf & Stock.
Brittain CC (2011) Initium Sapientiae Timor Alius and the Constituents of the University. In: Brittain CC and Murphy F (eds) Theology, University, Humanities: Inititium Sapientiae Timor Dominum Wipf & Stock.
Brittain CC (2006) From A Beautiful Mind to the Beautiful Soul: Rational Choice, Religion, and Adorno. In: Goldstein WS (ed) Marx, Critical Theory, and Religion: A Critique of Rational Choice. Leiden, Boston: Brill, pp. 151-177.
Brittain CC (2000) Subjective Destitution and the Postmodern Saint: A Reply to Slavoj Zizek’s interpretation of Breaking the Waves. In: Angermueller J, Bunzmann K, and Rauch C (eds) Hybrid Spaces: Theory, Culture, Economy. New York: Transaction/ Hamburg: LIT, pp.137-148.
Brittain CC (1999) Miming the Crucifixion: Irigaray’s Mimicry and the Power of Religious Language. In: Angermueller J & Martin Nonhoff M (eds) PostModerne Diskurse zwischen Sprache und Macht. Hamburg: Argument Verlag, pp. 90-100.
Monograph: Brittain, CC and McKinnon, A, The End of the Anglican Communion? The Crises of Anglicanism in the Global Age (Penn State University Press, forthcoming).