John Milbank

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John Milbank
Milbank seated at a panel
Milbank in October 2014
Alasdair John Milbank

(1952-10-23) 23 October 1952 (age 71)
Kings Langley, England
(m. 1978)
Academic background
Alma mater
ThesisThe Priority of the Made (1986)
Doctoral advisorLeon Pompa
Academic work
  • Theology
  • philosophy
School or tradition
Doctoral students
Notable works
Notable ideasRadical orthodoxy

Alasdair John Milbank (born 23 October 1952) is an English Anglo-Catholic theologian and is an Emeritus Professor in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Nottingham,[28] where he is President of the Centre of Theology and Philosophy.[29] Milbank previously taught at the University of Virginia and before that at the University of Cambridge and the University of Lancaster. He is also chairman of the trustees of the think tank ResPublica.

Milbank founded the radical orthodoxy movement.[30] His work crosses disciplinary boundaries, integrating subjects such as systematic theology, social theory, ethics, aesthetics, philosophy, political theory, and political theology. He first gained recognition after publishing Theology and Social Theory in 1990, which laid the theoretical foundations for the movement which later became known as radical orthodoxy. In recent years he has collaborated on three books with philosopher Slavoj Žižek and Creston Davis, entitled Theology and the Political: The New Debate (2005), The Monstrosity of Christ: Paradox or Dialectic (2009), and Paul's New Moment: Continental Philosophy and the Future of Christian Theology (2010). Milbank delivered the Stanton Lectures at Cambridge in 2011.[31] Milbank's friendship and substantial intellectual common ground with David Bentley Hart has been noted several times by both thinkers.[32]



Following his secondary education at Hymers College, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree with third-class honours in modern history from The Queen's College, Oxford.[17][33] He was awarded a postgraduate certificate in theology from Westcott House, Cambridge.[33] During his time in Cambridge he studied under Rowan Williams.[12] He then received his Doctor of Philosophy degree from the University of Birmingham.[33] His dissertation on the work of Giambattista Vico, entitled "The Priority of the Made: Giambattista Vico and the Analogy of Creation", was written under the supervision of Leon Pompa.[34] The University of Cambridge awarded him a senior Doctor of Divinity degree in recognition of published work in 1998.[35]

Personal life[edit]

Milbank was born in Kings Langley, England,[36] on 23 October 1952.[37] He married Alison Milbank, also a lecturer at the University of Nottingham,[38] in 1978.[39][40]

Thought and views[edit]

A key part of the controversy surrounding Milbank concerns his view of the relationship between theology and the social sciences. He argues that the social sciences are a product of the modern ethos of secularism, which stems from an ontology of violence. Theology, therefore, should not seek to make constructive use of secular social theory, for theology itself offers a peaceable, comprehensive vision of all reality, extending to the social and political without the need for a social theory based on some level of violence. (As Contemporary Authors summarises his thought, "the Christian mythos alone 'is able to rescue virtue from deconstruction into violent, agonistic difference.'")[36] Milbank argues that metaphysics is inescapable and therefore ought to be critically dealt with.[41]

Milbank is sometimes described as a metaphysical theologian in that he is concerned with establishing a Christian trinitarian ontology. He relies heavily on aspects of the thought of Plato and Augustine, in particular the former's modification by the neoplatonist philosophers.

Milbank, together with Graham Ward and Catherine Pickstock, has helped forge a new trajectory in constructive theology known as radical orthodoxy – a predominantly Anglo-Catholic approach which is highly critical of modernity.

Practical views[edit]

Milbank explicitly supports 'socialis[t]' social organization.[16][42][43][44][45][46]

He has been described as 'communitarian'.[47][48][49]

Milbank has described the "legislative change" to legalize same-sex marriage[50] as a strategy for the "extension of a form of biopolitical tyranny", arguing that "[w]here the reality of sexual difference is denied, then it gets reinvented in perverse ways - just as the over-sexualisation of women and the confinement of men to a marginalised machismo. Secondly, it would end the public legal recognition of a social reality defined in terms of the natural link between sex and procreation." He drew on James Alison to argue that "it is possible to recognise the legitimacy of faithful homosexual union without conceding that this is tantamount to marriage".[51]

Milbank also describes the medical practice of assisted suicide as "the polite, liberal Holocaust".[52]

Other views[edit]

He allegedly characterised "liberation, local, 'practice based' black, feminist, queer, trans, disability" theologies as "tiresome careerist and naturally elitist bollocks. But no one serious takes it seriously."[53]


Paul Hedges of S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University stated in one 2014 Open Theology article that "John Milbank's Radical Orthodoxy employs styles of rhetoric and representation of the religious Other that have clear affinities" with "ideologies" of "religious extremism and fundamentalism". Hedges wrote that Milbank's "rhetoric and judgements" suggest that "his theology is at best unhelpful, and at worst potentially dangerous." Hedges simultaneously concedes that "a different approach can be detected in his most recent writings".[54][55][56][57]

Nicholas Lash expressed reservations towards Milbank's views on the relation between "the sense of 'power' (Macht)" and "violence", and between "the Kingdom" and the Church.[58][59]

See also[edit]



  • Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason, 1990 – (ISBN 0-631-18948-3)
  • The Religious Dimension in the Thought of Giambattista Vico, 1668–1744, 2 vols., 1991–92 – (ISBN 0-7734-9694-7 [pt. 1], ISBN 0-7734-9215-1 [pt. 2])
  • The Mercurial Wood: Sites, Tales, Qualities, 1997 – (ISBN 3-7052-0113-1)
  • The Word Made Strange, 1997 – (ISBN 0-631-20336-2)
  • Truth in Aquinas, with Catherine Pickstock, 2000 – (ISBN 0-415-23335-6)
  • Being Reconciled: Ontology and Pardon, 2003 – (ISBN 0-415-30525-X)
  • Introducing Radical Orthodoxy: Mapping a Post-Secular Theology, Jan. 2004, Baker Publishing Group - ISBN 978-0-8010-2735-2
  • The Future of Love: Essays in Political Theology, 2009 – (ISBN 978-1-60608-162-4)
  • Paul's New Moment: Continental Philosophy and the Future of Christian Theology, With Slavoj Žižek and Creston Davis, 2010 – (ISBN 978-1-58743-227-9)
  • Beyond Secular Order: The Representation of Being and the Representation of the People, 2013 – (ISBN 978-1-118-82529-7)
  • The Dances of Albion: A Poetic Topography, Shearsman Books, 2015. ISBN 978-1-84861-395-9

Essays in edited volumes[edit]

  • "Postmodern Critical Augustinianism: A Short Summa in Forty-two Responses to Unasked Questions", found in The Postmodern God: A Theological Reader, edited by Graham Ward, 1997 – (ISBN 0-631-20141-6)
  • "The Last of the Last: Theology in the Church", found in Conflicting Allegiances: The Church-Based University in a Liberal Democratic Society, 2004 – (ISBN 1-58743-063-0)
  • "Alternative Protestantism: Radical Orthodoxy and the Reformed Tradition", found in Radical Orthodoxy and the Reformed Tradition: Creation, Covenant, And Participation, 2005 – (ISBN 0-8010-2756-X)
  • "Plato versus Levinas: Gift, Relation and Participation", found in Adam Lipszyc, ed., Emmanuel Levinas: Philosophy, Theology, Politics (Warsaw: Adam Mickiewicz Institute, 2006), 130–144.
  • "Sophiology and Theurgy: The New Theological Horizon", found in Adrian Pabst [de; fr], ed., Radical Orthodoxy and Eastern Orthodoxy (Basingstoke: Ashgate, 2009), 45–85 – (ISBN 978-0-7546-6091-0)
  • "Shari'a and the True Basis of Group Rights: Islam, the West, and Liberalism", found in Shari'a in the West, edited by Rex Ahdar and Nicholas Aroney, 2010 – (ISBN 978-0-19-958291-4)
  • "Platonism and Christianity: East and West", found in Daniel Haynes, ed., New Perspectives on Maximus (forthcoming)

Journal articles[edit]

  • "The Body by Love Possessed: Christianity and Late Capitalism in Britain", Modern Theology 3, no. 1 (October 1986): 35–65.
  • "Enclaves, or Where is the Church?", New Blackfriars, Vol. 73, no. 861 (June,1992), pp. 341–352.
  • "Can a Gift Be Given? Prolegomena to a Future Trinitarian Metaphysic", Modern Theology 11, no. 1 (January 1995): 119–161.
  • "The Soul of Reciprocity Part One: Reciprocity Refused", Modern Theology 17, no. 3 (July 2001): 335–391.
  • "The Soul of Reciprocity Part Two: Reciprocity Granted", Modern Theology 17, no. 4 (October 2001): 485–507.
  • "Scholasticism, Modernism and Modernity", Modern Theology 22, no. 4 (October 2006): 651–671.
  • "From Sovereignty to Gift: Augustine's Critique of Interiority", Polygraph 19 no. 20 (2008): 177–199.
  • "The New Divide: Romantic versus Classical Orthodoxy Modern Theology", Modern Theology 26, no. 1 (January 2010): 26–38.
  • "Culture and Justice", Theory, Culture and Society 27, no. 6 (2010): 107–124.
  • "On 'Thomistic Kabbalah'", Modern Theology 27, no. 1 (2011): 147–185.
  • Milbank, John (January 2011). "On "Thomistic Kabbalah"". Modern Theology. 27 (1): 147–185. doi:10.1111/j.1468-0025.2010.01659.x.
  • "Hume Versus Kant: Faith, Reason and Feeling", Modern Theology 27, no. 2 (April 2011): 276–297.
  • "Against Human Rights: Liberty in the Western Tradition", Oxford Journal of Law and Religion 1, no. 1 (2012): 203–234.
  • "Dignity Rather than Right", Revista de filosofía Open Insight, v. IV, no. 7 (January 2014): 77-124.
  • "Politics of the Soul", Revista de filosofía Open Insight, v. VI, no. 9 (January–June 2015): 91-108.
  • "Reformation 500: Any Cause for Celebration?", "Open Theology" v. 4 (2018): 607–729. Open Access. DOI: Reformation 500: Any Cause for Celebration?
  • "Officially Sanctioned Catholic Kabbalah? | Church Life Journal | University of Notre Dame". Archived from the original on 25 January 2022. Retrieved 2 October 2022.


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  16. ^ a b Kettle, Martin (15 September 2016). "Brexit was a revolt against liberalism. We've entered a new political era". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2 March 2023. But it is striking that this week saw the publication of a book by John Milbank and Adrian Pabst, which takes post-liberalism as an established reality and as the starting point for the examination of a new kind of politics based on a vision of social and personal virtue and what the authors dub conservative socialism.
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  29. ^ "Staff". Centre of Theology and Philosophy. Retrieved 14 December 2019.
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  36. ^ a b Contemporary Authors Online, s.v. "(Alasdair) John Milbank" Accessed 9 March 2009
  37. ^ Date of birth information sourced from Library of Congress Authorities data, via corresponding WorldCat Identities linked authority file (LAF). Retrieved on 14 February 2018.
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  47. ^ "Radical Orthodoxy steps into the pulpit". The Christian Century. Retrieved 2 March 2023.
  48. ^ Milbank, John. "A Revisionist Account of Natural Law and Natural Right". Church Life Journal. Retrieved 2 March 2023.
  49. ^ Milbank, Alasdair John (23 June 2020). "Twenty-Five Theses on Empire". Theopolis Institute. Retrieved 2 March 2023. [...] a communitarian international order, based upon a shared cultural sense of natural justice, requires some sort of institutional embodiment. Not "super-states," but federated commonwealths that to a degree pool their sovereignty.
  50. ^ "Gay Marriage and the Future of Human Sexuality". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 13 March 2012.
  51. ^ The impossibility of gay marriage and the threat of biopolitical control, 23 April 2013, archived from the original on 4 August 2021
  52. ^ "Milbank quote on assisted dying". Twitter. 8 June 2023. The polite, liberal Holocaust
  53. ^ "John Milbank's Twitter Bombshell on the Landscape of Identity-Based Theologies". 19 July 2020.
  54. ^ Hedges, Paul (19 September 2014). "The Rhetoric and Reception of John Milbank's Radical Orthodoxy: Privileging Prejudice in Theology?". Open Theology. 1 (1). doi:10.2478/opth-2014-0004. S2CID 145611633.
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  57. ^ Hedges, Paul (27 January 2014). "The Rhetoric and Reception of John Milbank's Radical Orthodoxy: Privileging Prejudice in Theology?". Open Theology. 1 (1). doi:10.2478/opth-2014-0004. S2CID 145611633 – via
  58. ^ Insole, Christopher J. (April 2004). "Against Radical Orthodoxy: The Dangers of Overcoming Political Liberalism". Modern Theology. 20 (2): 213–241. doi:10.1111/j.1468-0025.2004.00251.x.
  59. ^ Lash, Nicholas (October 1992). "Not Exactly Politics or Power?". Modern Theology. 8 (4): 353–364. doi:10.1111/j.1468-0025.1992.tb00287.x.

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