Site Overlay

This Is Your Hour

Published 2019 by Manchester University Press
Publisher’s website


In the 1930s and 1940s – amid the crises of totalitarianism, war and a perceived cultural collapse in the democratic West – a high-profile group of mostly Christian intellectuals met to map out ‘middle ways’ through the ‘age of extremes’. Led by the missionary and ecumenist Joseph H. Oldham, the group included prominent writers, thinkers and activists such as T. S. Eliot, John Middleton Murry, Karl Mannheim, John Baillie, Alec Vidler, H. A. Hodges, Christopher Dawson, Kathleen Bliss and Michael Polanyi. The ‘Oldham group’ saw faith as a uniquely powerful resource for social and cultural renewal, and it represents a fascinating case study of efforts to renew freedom in a dramatic confrontation with totalitarianism. The group’s story will appeal to those interested in the cultural history of the Second World War and the issue of applying faith to the ‘modern’ social order.


“Cometh the Hour, Cometh the Group”: article in Church Times, 31.05.2019.

Reviews and comments

‘In this erudite and clearly argued book, John Carter Wood has done the valuable service of re-connecting a prominent circle of Christian thinkers to the wider intellectual history of the 1930s and 1940s. Since Europe is again undergoing an existential crisis as postwar trajectories unwind, it is also undoubtedly timely, and the efforts of this group of intellectuals to address the problems of their age hold several lessons for their successors in the twenty-first century.’

Pippa Catterall, Professor of History and Policy, University of Westminster

‘At a time of intense debate about the role of religion and theology in the public square, it is instructive to recall how a notable group of mainly Christian intellectuals in Britain engaged with the great crisis that engulfed Britain, Europe and much of the world from the late 1930s until after the end of World War II. Centred on the lay theologian and ecumenical pioneer J. H. Oldham and his “Moot”, and including figures as diverse as the theologian John Baillie, the sociologist Karl Mannheim and the poet T. S. Eliot, these men and women were not, as so often happens, simply hoping to preserve a place for religion in society. They were rather concerned with society as such, and with how, in the face of totalitarianism on the one hand and the fragmentation of industrial capitalist society on the other, both freedom and community could be safeguarded and advanced. This study, impressive alike in its scope and scholarly detail, mediates a rich legacy of wisdom and still relevant questions which readers will find both highly informative and intellectually stimulating for the contemporary discussion.’

Keith Clements, biographer of J. H. Oldham and former General Secretary for the Conference of European Churches

‘Religion as an aspect of the Second World War has received limited attention thus far in the historiography. John Carter Wood’s book goes some way to remedying this in its detailed account of the contribution made by the influential ‘Oldham group’ of Christian thinkers, and the formation, circulation and receipt of their ideas concerning the basis upon which a new world order might be founded at the conclusion of the conflict. Detailed, sensitive to the context and sympathetic to the characters written of, this fascinating volume is a must read for historians working on many aspects of the war: cultural, political, intellectual, educational as well as religious. Wood’s study is an important account of the part faith played in shaping British political culture at a key point in the nation’s history.’

Stephen Parker, Professor of the History of Religion and Education, University of Worcester

‘This is your hour exemplifies the best of British narrative history, offering an original assessment of a fascinating network of mostly Christian intellectuals. The group it considers is an ideal venue for assessing the main debates and intellectual developments in Britain and Europe during and after the Second World War, with enduring impact on the postwar order. It is a fine example of the new intellectual history.’

Patrick Pasture, Professor of European and Global History, KU Leuven, Belgium

‘John Carter Wood offers a well-written and insightful analysis of a high-profile group of Christian thinkers who sought to formulate a religious response to the crises of their age. For the first time, he has given this circle the comprehensive and critical examination it deserves, filling a notable gap in the historiography of the transitional period stretching from the First World War to the 1940s. By taking into account the dynamic and transnational intellectual influences and personal connections that were vital to the discussions of the Oldham group, he also ensures that the relevance of his study extends well beyond British borders.’

Johannes Paulmann, Director of the Leibniz Institute of European History at Mainz

‘In this book, John Carter Wood takes the reader on an intellectual journey that reveals how a particular tradition of mid-century Christian thought was constituted. This is your hour vividly conveys the struggle to formulate contemporary Christian analyses and responses to the collapse of liberal capitalism, the rise of revolutionary socialism, the growth of totalitarian fascism and the nightmares of technological warfare. With a keen eye for detail and empathetic understanding, Wood shows how Christian intellectuals diagnosed institutional Christianity as ill-prepared for both modernity and its crisis, and how they sought to formulate a stance that enabled Christian influence and distinctiveness within an increasingly secular order. He offers an insightful and profound reading of the thinkers he tackles and rescues an influential and distinctive strain of thought within mid-century British intellectual culture from scholarly oblivion.’

Axel Schäfer, Professor of American Studies, University of Mainz

‘This is your hour is a major and much-needed contribution to the intellectual, political and cultural history of British Christianity in the twentieth century.’

Michael Snape, Michael Ramsey Professor of Anglican Studies, Durham University

‘This is a well-written and solidly researched book, drawing on a very wide range of published sources. The author’s grasp of the intricacies of the careers of the Oldham “group” is impressive, and, without doubt, this will become a vital resource for all those seeking to understand the response of Christian theologians and intellectuals in Britain to the mid-20th-century European crisis.’

Jeremy Morris, Church Times

‘Contrary to its subtitle, Wood’s book is not a broad survey of British-based Christian intellectuals and their response to Nazism and war, but rather a more narrowly focused examination of what Wood (Johannes Gutenberg Univ., Germany) terms “the Oldham group.” Convened by missionary J. H. Oldham, this often-overlooked collection of influential academics and activists -who counted among their participants such luminaries as John Baillie, T. S. Eliot, and Michael Polanyi-engaged in discussions and wrote works that searched for a faith-based response to the challenges that war and totalitarianism posed to Western civilization. The ideologies of the group were diverse and ranged across the Western Christian spectrum. Wood sees this group as embodying a more general Christian response to contemporary events, particularly in their employment of their faith in an effort to renew liberal democracy. Though stronger in its analysis of the Oldham group’s ideas than in demonstrating their impact, this book is nonetheless a useful study of the underappreciated contribution of mid-20th-century Christian thought to the problems of the period. A valuable resource on modern British intellectual history.’

Choice Connect