New Research: Church of England and the Early Cold War, 1945-48

ACCH Quarterly Vol. 15, No. 3, September 2010

New Research: Church of England and the Early Cold War, 1945-48.

By Tina Alice Hansen,Trinity College, Oxford University

Tina Alice Hansen is a D.Phil. Candidate at Trinity College, Oxford University, studying in the Department of Politics and International Relations. Here she describes her dissertation research. Ms. Hanson can be reached at

This thesis investigates the role of Church of England in the early Cold War years, 1945-1948. It has an institutional focus in the Church of England itself. It sets out to explore the Church’s collaboration with British government institutions, and involvement in the rehabilitation of the British Zone in Germany and the subsequent shaping of the Cold War framework. The role of Church of England in the shaping of a ‘Spiritual Union’ established between United Kingdom and United States will be investigated with particular examination of the role of the church in the shaping of a Cold War rhetoric and mindset.

It is known that leading bishops within Church of England had a significant role in creating a Cold War strategy and culture in Britain and abroad. This thesis takes these arguments further and looks at the double role of the church as a politically powerful institutional actor in Britain itself, where the church was in a position of both autonomy and state power through its links to the British government, and as a well-established trans-national actor with strong global network ties. It thus situates itself within recent historiography on the cold war as a domestic cultural phenomenon, as well as with political-scientific scholarship on institutions.

Based on archival work in United Kingdom, Germany and the United States, three cases will be examined: the role of Church of England in the re-construction and division of Germany; the role of Church of England domestically in the shaping of a Cold War mindset and, finally, Church of England and the idea of a Western Spiritual Union as a counter force to Communism.

The case studies involve examination of the Church’s work with the Labour government and the Control Commission in Germany, as well as with other churches in the UK. It also involves examination of Church of England’s influence through the British Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches and its close collaboration with the German Evangelical Church.

Although the analysis will be mainly of the church, the focus of the study will also need to be upon the British government as well, given my interest in the dialectic relationship between these two institutions and the institutional implications of decisions reached among them. The aim of this study is not to establish an academic account of the relationship between state church and state in Britain in general, but to come to an understanding of how they got to a mutual understanding of how to confront the challenges of the beginning Cold War, based on their experiences from total war, Nazi atrocities, the rise of Communism, and a shifting power balance in Europe, as well as their institutional relationship within the UK power structure. Further, I am interested in how the church managed its spiritual obligations while performing as a political and diplomatic institution; how the Cold War shaped the mindset of the Christian churches; how the British state managed to ‘harness the power of Christianity’ for political purposes; and how their joint strategy fitted into the larger puzzle of western political strategy-making in this period.