‘Be Strong and Play the Man’: Anglican Masculinities in the Twentieth Century

  • Lucy Delap
Part of the Genders and Sexualities in History book series (GSX)


In February 1957, the St James’ branch of the Church of England Men’s Society (CEMS) met in Bolton to discuss what one member described as ‘the great picture by Holman Hunt “THE SHADOW OF DEATH”’.1 Hunt had depicted Jesus as a muscular craftsman in the early 1870s, and nearly a century later his image was still resonating with this body of provincial Anglican laymen. The history of masculinities and Christian religion might perhaps lead us to think that this is not particularly surprising. Male piety has long been a conundrum; Callum Brown perceived an ‘overarching opposition between the conceptions of piety and masculinity’, which made Christian manliness ‘difficult and perhaps impossible’ to represent and enact.2 Where historians have attempted to explore male religiosity, ‘muscular Christianity’ has been the dominant historical optic. Physically robust versions of masculinity, synthesised with Christian values of the defence of the weak, stoicism, fair play and so on, featured in Anglo-American Christian evangelical literature from the 1850s, and slowly spread to influence youth movements, schools, secular fiction and generalised discourses of gender. Revivals in muscular Christianity have been traced at various moments across the twentieth century, and a ‘renewed significance and even a certain hidden dependency on muscular Christian ideology’ has been perceived in twenty-first-century Britain.3


Twentieth Century Gender Identity Executive Committee Gender Norm Christian Religion 
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Further reading

  1. Erdozain, D. (2010) The Problem of Pleasure: Sport, Recreation and the Crisis of Victorian Religion (Woodbridge: Boydell Press).Google Scholar
  2. Green, S. J. D. (2011) The Passing of Protestant England: Secularisation and Social Change, c.1920–1960 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).Google Scholar
  3. Griffin, B. (2012) The Politics of Gender in Victorian Britain: Masculinity, Political Culture and the Struggle for Women’s Rights (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).Google Scholar
  4. Grimley, M. (2004) Citizenship, Community and the Church of England. Liberal Anglican Theories of the State Between the Wars (Oxford: Oxford University Press).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Harris, A. J. Garnett and M. Grimley (2006) Redefining Christian Britain: Post-1945 Perspectives (London: SCM Press).Google Scholar
  6. Heeney, B. (1988) The Women’s Movement in the Church of England, 1850–1930 (Oxford: Clarendon).Google Scholar
  7. Hilliard, D. (1982) ‘Unenglish and Unmanly: Anglo-Catholicism and Homosexuality’, Victorian Studies, 25(2), 181–210.Google Scholar
  8. Jones, T. (2012) Sexual Politics in the Church of England, 1857–1957 (Oxford: Oxford University Press).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. — (2012) ‘Unduly Conscious of Her Sex: Priesthood, Female Bodies and Sacred Space in the Church of England’, Women’s History Review, 21(4), 639–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Matthews-Jones, L. (2011) ‘St Francis of Assisi and the Making of Settlement Masculinity, 1883–1914’, in S. Brady and J. H. Arnold (eds) What is Masculinity? Historical Dynamics from Antiquity to the Contemporary World (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan), pp. 285–302.Google Scholar
  11. O’Brien, A. (1993) ‘“A Church Full of Men”: Masculinism and the Church in Australian History’, Australian Historical Studies, 25(100), 437–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Robbins, K. (2008) ‘Political Anglicanism: Church and State in the Twentieth Century’, in N. Yates (ed.) Anglicanism: Essays in History, Belief and Practice (Lampeter: Trivium), pp. 89–104.Google Scholar

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© Lucy Delap 2013

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  • Lucy Delap

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