Born in Oswaldkirk, North Yorkshire, Bunting was educated at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, where she read History, and won a Knox postgraduate fellowship to study Politics and teach at Harvard. After a period working for Brook Productions (1988–89) she joined The Guardian taking up posts as a news reporter, leader writer, religious affairs editor, associate editor and regular columnist.
Bunting was appointed Director of the London based think tank Demos in June 2006 and took up her position at the beginning of September. The following month she resigned, owing to differences with the trustees over the direction of the organisation. Bunting returned to her old position at The Guardian and wrote a history of an area where she grew up. The Plot was published by Granta in 2010.
Madeleine Bunting was formerly married to Patrick Wintour, political editor of The Guardian.
Madeleine Bunting is noted for her advocacy of religious belief from a liberal position and her antipathy to atheism, claiming that new atheists' antipathy to religion makes it impossible for them to criticise religion effectively. Bunting has been accused of quoting Sam Harris misleadingly  and Austin Cline claims Bunting's real concern is that critics of religion might be correct and criticism of religion might cause religion to decline even more than has already happened.
However, Madeleine Bunting has been very critical of abuse committed within the Catholic Church in Ireland  and elsewhere in the world. Bunting believes the moral authority of the Roman Catholic Church is irreversibly compromised.
- The Model Occupation: The Channel Islands Under German Rule, 1940-45, HarperCollins (1995) ISBN 0-00-255242-6 (reprint (2004) Pimlico, ISBN 1-84413-086-X)
- Willing Slaves: How the Overwork Culture is Ruling Our Lives, HarperCollins (2004) ISBN 978-0-00-716372-4
- The Plot: A Biography of an English Acre, Granta Books (2010) ISBN 978-1-84708-085-1
- Stephen Brook "Bunting returns to the Guardian", The Guardian website, 19 October 2006. Retrieved on 9 May 2007.
- Madeleine Bunting "The New Atheists loathe religion far too much to plausibly challenge it", The Guardian, 7 May 2007. Retrieved on 9 May 2007.
- Misquoting Harris
- Madeleine Bunting: Atheists Shouldn't Criticize Religion, By Austin Cline
- An abuse too far by the Catholic church
- An inquiry is vital, but the church's moral authority is lost for ever