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 recent 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 roles within the University, including a six-year stint as Head of Department, and developed distance learning post-graduate provision in Church History. In 2009 I moved to the University of Nottingham as an Associate Professor, and was Head of Nottingham's Department of Theology and Religious Studies from August 2015 until July 2017, and again from January - August 2018. I was appointed Professor of the History of Modern Christianity in 2017.
I am honoured to have been appointed President of the Ecclesiastical History Society for the year 2020-21. I have selected as my theme for the year 'The Church and Rites of Passage'.
ORCID ID: 0000-0002-0124-8118
My major area of academic interest is Christianity in the West in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. I particularly welcome enquiries from potential postgraduate students who are interested in working on Christianity since 1750, particularly in England and/or Wales.
I have supervised 11 PhD theses to successful completion:
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)
I am currently supervising Terry Root, who is working on 'The Theological Context of Alan Richardson'
I have acted as a consultant on the development of higher education provision in Theology in the United Kingdom and Scandinavia.
I am, or have been, a member of various editorial boards, including the Journal of Religious History and the newly formed 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.
My current teaching at undergraduate level on the University Park campus is:
Religion in Nineteenth-century Britain
Religion in Twentieth-century Britain
I have made contributions to the following co-taught undergraduate modules:
The Bible, Music, Art and Literature
Christ and Culture
Roads to Modernity
My current teaching at MA level on the distance learning MA in Church History is:
Revivalism and Reform in Britain and America, 1730-1850
The Church and the Social Question in Britain, 1815-1900
Christianity in Twentieth-century Britain
Research Methods and Resources
I will be on research leave in the second semester of 2019-20 (from February until the end of July 2020).
There are two particular areas in the history of modern 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, and have completed two relevant projects in 2019.
The first is an article on the preaching culture at St Paul's cathedral in the eighteenth and nineteenth-centuries. This is due to appear very shortly in issue 3 of the new on-line journal Sermon Studies.
The second is a chapter on 'The Established Churches' for the The Cambridge Companion to British Romanticism and Religion.
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 paragraph below.
The end of the nineteenth century (the fin de siècle) has attracted much interest from scholars of literary and cultural studies, who regard it as a critical moment in the history of their disciplines, but it has been relatively ignored by religious historians. My purpose in this book is 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 include 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 investigate 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 argue 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 currently working on a new study on the religious influences which shaped Ebenezer Howard, the founder of the garden city movement. This project arises directly out of my recent work on Christianity at the fin de siècle. It has been commissioned by OUP as part of their new Spiritual Lives series, (General Editor, Timothy Larsen).
The 'first-fruit' of this project is an article recently accepted by Urban History entitled 'The Victorian City and the Christian Imagination: From Gothic City to Garden City' which I hope will appear in 2020.
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
FRANCES KNIGHT, 2017. Anglicanism. In: JOEL RASMUSSEN, ed., The Oxford Handbook of 19th Century Christian Thought Oxford University Press. 524-539
FRANCES KNIGHT, 2017. Social Welfare and the Churches in England, Scotland and Wales. In: LEEN VAN MOLLE, ed., Charity and Social Welfare: The Dynamics of Religious Reform in Northern Europe 1780 - 1920 IV. Leuven University Press. 41 - 70
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 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 which has been 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, c.1780-c.1920'.
The project brought together a team of religious historians from Scandinavia, Germany, the Low Countries and the UK. We looked at all the major aspects of the changes in the church-state relationship, and their impact on the ecclesiastical reform programme, and its time-scale, in a way which sought to compare and contrast these developments in different parts of the continent. The project is resulting in a six volume study has been published by Leuven University Press since 2010.