An Agenda for Joy: Rowan Williams’s Theology of Conflict, Unity, and Solidarity

Brian McKinlay. PhD thesis, Charles Sturt University, 2020

Download the thesis in full from Charles Sturt University’s open access portal.

It is also available from ProQuest.

The words “an agenda for joy,” in my title are from an address by Williams to an ecumenical conference at St Albans in 2003: “One thing I hope may emerge as we reflect today is that we need to balance the anxieties and challenges and struggles around unity with some sense that there is also an agenda for joy in this.” (“May They All be One . . . but How?” (Keynote Address at a conference held in St Alban’s Cathedral on 17 May 2003).


This study seeks a theological understanding of disagreement and conflict in church and society through a reading of the work of Rowan Williams, who argues that conflict and difference are constitutive of human oneness. Williams’s theology of church and his understanding of its unity are closely interrelated. The church itself and its unity are God’s gift. Drawing on Williams, the thesis proposes solidarity as a category through which to understand the oneness of the church and its relationship with society. According to Williams, God creates and sustains a universe of immeasurable difference within itself. Williams employs Gillian Rose’s reading of Hegel to introduce a metaphysical understanding of such difference and our response to it. The communal work of truth-seeking requires unavoidable negotiation, self-dispossession and loss, without which there may be tragic misrecognition of our interests and those of others. Looking beyond the church, the thesis explores Williams’s theologically grounded proposals for solidarity in a pluralist society oriented towards the common good.