After leaving school in St Albans, I went to King's College London to read for the BD in Theology, during which I discovered that the history of Christianity was the part of the syllabus that interested me most. This was followed by a part-time Master's degree at King's, which I combined with book selling, copy-editing, and various freelance jobs.
I moved to the University of Cambridge Divinity Faculty, to work on a PhD under the supervision of David Thompson. This thesis, on what was then the enormous diocese of Lincoln in the second quarter of the nineteenth-century, became the starting point for my first book (see Past Research). After a brief spell on the staff at Lambeth Palace Library, I returned to Cambridge as a British Academy Post-doctoral Fellow, and fellow of Selwyn College Cambridge, from 1991 to 1994. During this time I also began to develop my interest in distance learning, working for the Open University on two of their Victorian religion courses, in the Eastern region and later on a short-term contract at Milton Keynes.
In 1995, I moved to West Wales, to take up a lectureship in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Wales, Lampeter. I began to research and write about the Welsh Church (see Past Research) and became a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society in 1997. I taught modern church history to theologians, Christianity modules to religious studies students and Victorian studies within an interdisciplinary degree programme. I undertook a variety of tasks within the University, including a six-year stint as Head of Department, and developing distance learning post-graduate provision in Church History.
In 2009 I moved to the University of Nottingham, and was Head of the Department of Theology and Religious Studies from August 2015 until July 2017, and again from January - August 2018. I was Director of the MA in Church History from 2009 to 2020, and performed a number of other roles within the Department, including Assessment Officer and Director of Postgraduate Studies.
In the summer of 2020 I took voluntary redundancy under the University's Covid-19 scheme, and became Professor Emeritus in the History of Christianity. I'm now a freelance historian and academic consultant, and divide my time between research (see Current Research) and other activities.
I was President of the Ecclesiastical History Society in 2021-22. My theme for the year was 'The Churches and Rites of Passage'. A selection of the papers delivered at the associated conferences will be published as The Churches and Rites of Passage: Studies in Church History 59 (Cambridge, 2023).
ORCID ID: 0000-0002-0124-8118
My academic expertise is in the history of Christianity in the West in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with a particular focus on England and Wales.
I am a member of the editorial boards of the Journal of Religious History and the Journal of Religious History, Literature and Culture.
I am a trustee of the Lincoln Theological Institute for the Study of Religion and Society, which is based at the University of Manchester, and also a member of its academic advisory board.
I am a member of the Academic Board of the Lambeth Research Degrees in Theology programme.
I was elected a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society (FRHistS) in 1997.
I am a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (FHEA) and have extensive experience in theological education, PhD supervision and examination, and related areas. I have acted as a consultant on the development of higher education provision in Theology in the United Kingdom and Scandinavia.
In 2022 I was elected a Fellow of the Learned Society of Wales (FLSW).
I have supervised 12 doctoral students to successful completion of their PhD theses:
Barry L. Craig, 'Bishop John Medley: Missionary and Reformer' (2001); published as Apostle to the Wilderness: Bishop John Medley and the Evolution of the Anglican Church (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2006)
Ross N. Hebb, 'The Church of England in Loyalist New Brunswick' (2002); published as The Church of England in Loyalist New Brunswick, 1783-1825 (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2006)
David Easton, 'Gathered into One: the Reunion of British Methodism 1860-1960, with particular reference to Cornwall' (2007)
Paula Yates, 'The Established Church and Rural Elementary Schooling: the Welsh Dioceses, 1780-1830' (2008)
Nicholas Henderson, 'Towards a Lay Anglican Ecclesiology' (2009)
Lester Mason, 'Communities in Mourning: Commemoration and Memorial Construction in West Wales following the Great War' (2009)
Margaret Kidger, 'Colliers and Christianity: Religion in the Coalmining Communities of South Wales and the East Midlands c.1860-1930' (2011)
Margaret Turnham, 'Roman Catholic Revivalism: A Study of the Diocese of Middlesbrough, 1779-1992' (2012); published as Catholic Faith and Practice in England 1779-1992: The Role of Revivalism and Renewal (Boydell, 2015)
Paul Hamlet, 'The Revd Hugh James Rose: Old High Churchman and Pre-Tractarian' (2012)
Sara Slinn, 'Roads to Ordination': the Educational Backgrounds of the Non-graduate Clergy in late Georgian England and Wales'. (2014) published as The Education of the Anglican Clergy, 1780 - 1839 (Boydell, 2017)
Christine Pocock, 'The Origins, Development and Significance of the Circuit in Wesleyan and Primitive Methodism' (2014)
Terry Root, 'Alan Richardson: Reappraising the life of a twentieth-century Christian theologian, cleric and educator' (2020).
I am not currently teaching, but my most recent modules, all taught at Nottingham until 2020, were: Faith and Identity: Religion in Nineteenth-century Britain (levels 2/3); Culture and Change:… read more
There are two particular areas in the history of Christianity in which I research and publish. The first is the history of the Church of England from the late eighteenth-century to the present. I… read more
FRANCES KNIGHT, 2021. Christianity: Established Churches. In: JEFFREY BARBEAU, ed., The Cambridge Companion to British Romanticism and Religion Cambridge University Press. 13-30
There are two particular areas in the history of Christianity in which I research and publish. The first is the history of the Church of England from the late eighteenth-century to the present. I have been active in this field for over 25 years. My most recently completed projects in this area are an article on the preaching culture at St Paul's cathedral in the eighteenth and nineteenth-centuries, which appeared in Sermon Studies in 2019, and a chapter on 'The Established Churches' for The Cambridge Companion to British Romanticism and Religion edited by Jeffrey Barbeau, published in 2021. In July 2021 I spoke at the Meissen Theological Conference on the topic of differing understandings of the 'historic episcopate' and this will be published shortly as 'What did a bishop think he was doing? Episcopal oversight in practice in England's age of reform'.
My second research interest is focused on the late-nineteenth century, and on the interactions between religion and culture during the time when the Victorian period gave way to the early-twentieth century. These ideas were explored in my most recent book, Victorian Christianity at the Fin de Siècle: English Religion in a Decadent Age (I.B. Tauris, 2015), and I explain them further in the 'Past Research' section, below.
I have just completed Ebenezer Howard: Inventor of the Garden City (Oxford, 2023). The book is a new biography of Howard, with a particular focus on the religious influences that shaped him and the early Garden City movement. It was commissioned by OUP as part of their new Spiritual Lives series, (General Editor, Timothy Larsen).
The 'first-fruit' of this project was an article in Urban History entitled 'The Victorian City and the Christian Imagination: From Gothic City to Garden City'.
I have also recently completed an article on the Anglican fin de siècle theologian Henry Scott Holland, in which I argue that he was an early exponent of urban theology.
Largely unrelated to the above, but exploring the theme of differing ecclesiastical cultures in relation to the most inevitable of the rites of passage, death and funerals, I have published an article exploring the recent history of cremation: 'Cremation and Christianity: English Anglican and Roman Catholic attitudes to cremation since 1885'. This can be accessed on line in Mortality. http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/K2MsNSfqQw9xfqpANzAY/full
I would summarize my current interests as:
The Church of England from the late eighteenth century to the present
Conformity and Dissent
Preaching and sermons from the eighteenth century to the present
Christianity at the fin de siècle
Christian social thought and town planning
The Churches and rites of passage
Oral history in religious history
I wrote my doctoral thesis on what was then the largest of the English dioceses, the diocese of Lincoln from 1827 to 1853. This research was subsequently revised and expanded to become The Nineteenth Century Church and English Society (1995). This book was the first study to consider the meaning of Anglicanism for ordinary people in nineteenth-century England, and in it I explored many of the topics which interest me still, such as denominational identity, personal piety, the role of clergy, the Church-State relationship and the nature of Christian communities.
From the late 1990s, I extended my research interests to Wales, and to comparative work on the English and Welsh Churches. My most significant publication on the Welsh Church was The Welsh Church from Reformation to Disestablishment 1603-1920 (2007) which I co-wrote with William Jacob and the late Sir Glanmor Williams and the late Nigel Yates.
I am also interested in understanding nineteenth-century Christianity in a European and in a global perspective. This was reflected in my book The Church in the Nineteenth Century (2008), which is volume six in the IB Tauris History of the Christian Church series, and in my participation in an international research project co-ordinated from the Netherlands with financial support from the Dutch government, on The Dynamics of Religious Reform in Church, State and Society in Northern Europe 1780 -1920.
The project brought together a team of religious historians from Scandinavia, Germany, the Low Countries and the UK, resulting in six volumes of essays published by Leuven University Press. I contributed to vol. 2 The Churches (2010) and to vol 4 Charity and Social Welfare (2017).
My most recent book was Victorian Christianity at the Fin de Siècle: English Religion in a Decadent Age (I.B. Tauris, 2015), and I explain the ideas that led to this project further in the paragraph below.
The end of the nineteenth century (the fin de siècle) had attracted much interest from scholars of literary and cultural studies, who regarded it as a critical moment in the history of their disciplines, but it had been relatively ignored by religious historians. My purpose in this book was to set right that neglect, by showing how late Victorian society (often said to be one of the most intensely Christian cultures the world has ever seen) reacted to the bold agendas being set by the thinkers of the fin de siècle; and how prominent Church figures during the era first identified many of the concerns that have preoccupied Christians latterly. These included an active interest in social justice and the creation of new types of communities; increasingly open discussion of the sexual exploitation of children; debates about society's 'decadence'; new ideas about the role of women; and the belief in the redemptive powers of art, pioneered by figures as diverse as P.T. Forsyth, Percy Dearmer and Samuel and Henrietta Barnett. Examining in particular the Christian world of fin de siècle London, I investigated a society in which the ritual and culture of Christianity sometimes permeated the aesthetic movement and where devotees of the aesthetic movement - like Walter Pater, Oscar Wilde and their disciples - often revealed a fascination with Christianity. I argued that the 'long 1890s' was a decisive decade in which various sections of Christian opinion, both on the progressive and the more conservative wings of the faith, began to express views which set the tone for attitudes which would become commonplace in the twentieth century.
I am a member of the Oral History Society, and have recently begun a project in partnership with the East Midlands Oral History Archive on Roman Catholicism in the East Midlands.
Research and writing over the next twelve months will include a chapter on preaching and sermons in the twentieth century for A Companion to Preaching and the Sermon in the Twentieth Century (Brill); a chapter on Holman Hunt for a book about his famous painting The Light of the World (Baylor UP) and an article on Henrietta Barnett for Modern Believing.