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Title: Should such a faith offend? : Bishop Barnes and the British eugenics movement, c.1924-1953
Author: Merricks, Patrick T.
ISNI:       0000 0004 7230 5460
Awarding Body: Oxford Brookes University
Current Institution: Oxford Brookes University
Date of Award: 2014
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This dissertation explores the eugenic ideology of E.W. Barnes in its conceptual evolution and practical application from 1924 to 1953. As the Bishop of Birmingham and one of the prominent members of the Eugenics Society, Barnes used the pulpit as a platform to promote eugenic reform both before and after 1945. Above all, he believed it essential for Britain’s biological and spiritual progress to address the alleged widespread mental deficiency in the population through eugenic measures, namely: birth control, sterilization and euthanasia. Barnes’ unique blend of Modernist Christianity and biological determinism received national media attention. Responses to his creed were highly polarized, oscillating between praise and moral reprehension. It is surprising that historians of religion and eugenics have largely overlooked Barnes and his considerable contribution. Towards rectifying this neglect, this dissertation represents a new insight in the growing literature on both the British eugenics movement in general and the attitudes of the Anglican Church towards eugenics in particular. By engaging with these two broad spheres of thought, Barnes’ ideas offer a lens through which one can view the somewhat blurred lines between ‘traditional’ religion and ‘secular’ eugenics in the 20th century. Rather than constituting mutually antagonistic approaches, eugenic and Christian interpretations of social improvement were seen by a number of eugenicists at the time as complementary. If the path towards human biological improvement was charted by eugenicists, then according to Barnes, Christianity held their moral compass. After the fall of Nazism, the British eugenics movement found itself discredited and marginalized. In the eyes of many, eugenics was complicit – or at least guilty by conceptual association – in the National Socialist humanitarian atrocities, which were becoming widely known. Remarkably, while many eugenicists chose to distance themselves from negative eugenics after the Second World War, Barnes endorsed sterilization and euthanasia all the more fervently. While many responded with vehement criticism, opposition to his suggestions was not universal, and many continued to agree that, among other things, it was a national responsibility to prevent the ‘mentally deficient’ from reproducing. In analysing the development of Barnes’ eugenic ideas between c. 1924 and 1953, this dissertation has also opened new avenues of research, in particular the examination of ideas relating to eugenics and religion in Britain and the extent to which eugenic concerns continue to permeate biomedical debates today.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available