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About David Nicholls


David Nicholls


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: Abbreviated CV :

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David Nicholls was a rare phenomenon in today's world of professional pigeon-holing: a writer of important and influential academic works who never held a mainstream academic post, a theologian whom the Church of England found it difficult to accommodate. He was amused as well as irritated by his lack of recognition and ecclesiastical preferment. He knew, perhaps, that to be appointed to one of the chairs for which he applied would in fact, be to enter a bureaucratic trap. Faute de mieux, therefore, he came to live as an old-style country parson of the best sort, working since 1978 in the parish of SS Mary and Nicholas Littlemore near Oxford (and thus near the Bodleian Library), and issuing a far more substantial stream of books and articles -in qualitative as well as in quantitative terms -than those who got the jobs for which he applied. He made theology matter in the world of secular academia; and he showed religious people that good intentions and kindly thinking are not enough.

David, although born in England, was of Welsh descent and proud to regard himself as such; under his father's influence he became a champion swimmer; his mother taught him to "love people and books". Graduating from the London school of Economics he obtained scholarships for post-graduate study at Kings College Cambridge (with Alec Vidler) and Yale Divinity School. He attended Chichester Theological College (under Cheslyn Jones) and as deacon, then priest, worked in the London University Chaplaincy team (at St. George's Bloomsbury ) under Gordon Phillips -formative experiences. Grey, rainy weather in London prompted application for the post of lecturer in Government at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine Campus (1966-1973). It was during this time that his interest in Haiti was kindled, he pioneered interest in the non-English speaking Caribbean at UWI. Trinidad's pluralist society (see dedication in Three Varieties of Pluralism) with its rich heritage of language and customs, the weather, beautiful scenery and vibrancy suited him (and his motor-bike). There David continued a mixture of teaching, research, writing and pastoral work (on campus and outside) which he continued in varying proportions throughout his life. Returning to England as Chaplain and Fellow of Exeter College Oxford, he also jointly ran seminars on race relations at the Latin American Centre of St. Anthony's college, becoming a senior associate member there. After 5 years at Exeter College he moved to the parish of Littlemore where he continued to write, his theology being rooted in his pastoral ministry and regular worship. His life was lived true to his Christian faith but his influence in personal and academic terms was much wider than the church.

His work on the Caribbean, particularly Haiti gained him an international reputation and he was much in demand as a speaker especially in the United States. His views were summarised in From Dessalines to Duvalier: race colour and national independence (1979, paper-back edition 1988) which has become a classic, Economic dependence and political autonomy: the Haitian experience (1974) and Haiti in Caribbean Context: ethnicity, economy and revolt ( 1985). A comparative study of the Levantine community in the islands is published in articles and chapters. His theological work included editing a series of nine volumes under the general title Faith and the Future (1983) He then turned to what he saw as his credo: a trilogy, working from the present backwards, examining the symbiotic relationship of theology, philosophy and politics. The first 2 volumes were Deity and Domination: Images of God and the State in the 19th and 20rh Centuries (1989) given as the Hulsean lectures in Cambridge, and God and Government in an Age of Reason ( 1995); the third volume Despotism and Doubt he left unfinished. These are among the most important British works in political theology. Quite apart from his reputation in theology and Caribbean studies, political philosophers were beginning to recognise David Nicholls as the pioneer in the revival and restatement of pluralism. His Three Varieties of Pluralism appeared in 1974 when the doctrine was highly unfashionable. Marxist-Leninist, Hobbist and democratic theories all began, and ended, with theories of the state. How centralised power should be used was debated. What was largely ignored, however, was that all concentration on and of such power was an inadequate account of the essentially pluralistic nature of actual political life and social formations. David went back to Figgis and his secular disciple, Harold Laski, to restate pluralism as a critique of the theory of sovereignty. Twenty years ago it seemed only of some academic interest. But by the time of the second, revised and extended edition of The Pluralist State (1994), opinion had swung to vindicate his judgement, not merely among academics but in nearly all reforming political opinion. "He was right about the spirit of our times, and some of us got there before others having read him and been persuaded," writes Bernard Crick. He will be seen as one of the few political philosophers of our time who had an influence outside the academy. Oxford University recognised his ability with a D Litt. In 1991. David's special gift apart from his academic rigour, was to see important connections between disciplines usually separated; this, combined with a deep interest in and love of people. A friend recently said "David did not care about the world yet he cared deeply about the world."

All who knew David will agree that no description would be complete without an accounting of the role of the Venerable William Paley, Archdeacon Emeritus.  This magnificent macaw from the Venezuelan Orinioco jungles had a distinguished career as a loyal ally of David, the scholar, as well as David, the journalistic jouster.  The following letter appeared in the Independent newspaper (April 3, 1995):

Sir: It is reassuring to know that the Pope is against the "culture of death", particularly in view of the fact that he was the only head of state in the world to recognise the brtual and murderous military junta [in Haiti].  It would appear that the pro-life principle is selectively applied by the Vatican.  Yours faithfully, William Paley (Archdeacon Emeritus, Oxford).



1947-54 Woking Grammar School
1954-57 London School of Economics
1957-60 King's College, Cambridge
1960-61 Yale Divinity School
1961-62 Chichester Theological College


1956 Lash Prize (London School of Economics)
1957 BSc.Econ, with first class hons. (London University, special subject Government).
1957 Gladstone Prize (London School of Economics)
1960 Henry Fellowship (Yale)
1962 Doctor of Philosophy (Cambridge University, History Faculty)
1962 Master of Sacred Theology (Yale University)
1973 Master of Arts (Oxford University, by special decree)
1991 Doctor of Letters (Oxford University, History & Social Studies Faculties)


1958-60 Part-time college teaching at Cambridge University & part-time teaching for W.E.A., Workers Education Association
1962 Deacon in Church of England (1963 Ordained priest)
1962-66 Assistant Chaplain to Anglicans at London Univ. & asst curate at St George's Bloomsbury
1963-65 Part-time Lecturer at London School of Economics & Regent Street Polytechnic
1966-73 Lecturer in Government, University of the West Indies, Trinidad
1970-71 Visiting Research Fellow, Institute of Race Relations, London
1973-78 Chaplain, Tutor & Fellow, Exeter College, Oxford
1978-96 Priest-in-charge, Littlemore Parish Church, Oxford; (1986-96 Vicar)
1985-86 Hulsean Lecturer, Cambridge Universit)


1966-73 Part time work as priest in Diocese of Trinidad
1968-70 Chairman, West Indies Group of University Teachers (Trinidad branch)
1969-70 External Examiner, University of Guyana
1974-77 Member of Latin American Committee of OXFAM
1974-78 Chairman, Oxford Branch of World University Service
1974-78 The Senior Member, Oxford University Motor Cycle Club
1974-96 Trustee, Christendom Trust (Chair: 1992-96)
1976-96 Senior Member, St Antony's College, Oxford
1977-86 Trustee & Council Member of OXFAM
1978-90 Editorial Board, Ethnic & Racial Studies
1978-84 Theological & Religious Studies Board, Council for National Academic Awards
1979-84 Combined Studies (Humanities) Board, CNAA
1980-86 Staff Committee of OXFAM (Chair: 1984-86)
1982-91 Theological Advisory Committee, Westminster College, Oxford
1983-86 Executive Committee of OXFAM
1984-96 Associate Fellow, Centre for Caribbean Studies, University of Warwick
1987-96 Trustee & Member of Council of Management, Latin America Bureau
1988-96 Committee of Society for Caribbean Studies (Vice Chair: 1989-91; Chair: 1991-3)
1978-96 Governor of Lawn Upton Middle School (Chair: 1989-96)


1. Church and State in Britain Since 1820, London, 1967

2. Three Varieties of Pluralism, London, 1974 *

3. The Pluralist State, London, 1975; second edn revised & expanded, 1994

4. Deity and Domination: Images of God and the State in the 19th and 20th Centuries, Routledge, London, 1989 (paperback, London, 1994)

5. God and Government in an Age of Reason, Routledge, London, 1995

6. Authority and the Development of Doctrine, Theology, April 1960

7. A Short & Easy Method with Mr Cowling, Cambridge Journal, February 1960

8. Gladstone on Liberty & Democracy, Review of Politics, 23:3, 1961, pp 401-09

9. Positive Liberty, 1880-1914, American Political Science Review, 56:1, 1962, pp 114-128

10. Newmans Anglican Critics, Anglican Theological Review, 47:4, 1965, pp 377-94

11. What is Liberal Protestantism? Theology, November 1965

12. Developing Doctrines & Changing Beliefs, Scottish Journal of Theology, 19:3, 1966, pp


13 The Totalitarianism of Thomas Arnold, Review of Politics, 29:4, 1967, pp 518-26

14. Few are Chosen: some reflections on the politics of A.J. Balfour, Review of Politics, 30:1,

1968, pp 33-42

15. Modifications and Movements, Journal of Theological Studies, 25:2, 1974, pp 393-417

16. Gladstone, Newman and the Politics of Pluralism, in J. Bastable, ed., Newman & Gladstone: Centennial Essays, Dublin, 1978

17. Gladstone and the Anglican Critics of Newman, in ibid.

18. A Comment on Consent ',Political Studies, 27:1, 1979, pp 120-24

19. The Politics of Dr Norman, in K. Leech, ed., Christianity Reinterpreted, London, 1979

20. Images of God and the State, Theological Studies, 42:2, 1981, pp 195-215

21. Fractions, Crucible, January 1982

22. Stepping out of Babylon: sin, salvation & social transformation in christian tradition, in K.Leech & R. Williams, eds, Essays Catholic & Radical, London, 1983

23. Great Expectations: christian hope and marxist hope, in ibid.

24. Divine Analogy: the theological politics of John Donne, Political Studies, 32:4, 1984

25. William Temple and the Welfare State, Crucible 1984

26. Deity and Domination in New Blackfriars, January & February 1985

27. Conscience and Authority in the Thought of W.G. Ward, Heythrop Journal, October 1985

28. Images of God in Liberation Theology, Third World BookReview, 1:4 & 5, 1985

29. Two Tendencies in Anglo-Catholic Political Theology, in G. Rowell, ed., Tradition Renewed, London 1986.

30. Federal Politics and Finite God: Images of God in US Theology, Modern Theology, 4:4,


31. The Political Theology of John Donne, Theological Studies, 49:1, 1988.

32. Christianity and Politics, in R. Morgan ed., The Religion of the Incarnation, Bristol, 1989

33. Politics and the Church of England, Political Quarterly, April 1990.

34. Co-editor, John Henry Newman: Reason Rhetoric & Romanticism, Bristol Press, 1991

35. Individualism and the Appeal to Authority, in above volume (33)

36. The Invisible Hand: Providence and the Market, in Paul Heelas and Paul Morris eds, The Values of the Enterprise Culture, Routledge, 1991

37. Trinity and Conflict, Theology, January-February, 1993

38 Addressing God as Ruler: Prayer and Petition, British Journal of Sociology, 44:1, 1993

39. Prayer, Petition and Political Power, in Mart Bax and E. Koster, eds, Power and Prayer Power and Prayer: Essays on Politics and Religion (Amsterdam, Free University Press,


40. Parson Malthus: Process and Providence, Anglican Theological Review, 1995

41.. Grace, in Dictionary of Ethics Theology and Society, Routledge, 1995

42. Scepticism & Sovereignty: the significance of Lamennais, New Blaclcfriars, April & May 1996

43, Jubilee Group pamphlets:

Principalities & Powers, 1979

A Great Mysteiy. Reflections on the LichfIeld Report, 1981

Fractions: Christian Reflections on Foreign Aid, 1982

Politics and Theological Identity (with Rowan Williams), 1984

God and Government, 1992

* Japanese translation (Tokyo 1981)

GENERAL EDITOR of series Faith and the Future, (9 volumes) Blackwell, Oxford 1983


1. From Dessalines to Duvalier: Race, Colour and National Independence in Haiti, Cambridge, 1979 (2nd edn, paperback, London 1988; 3rd edn revised, London 1996) French translation funded by & © David Nicholls Memorial Trust

2. Economic Dependence & Political Autonomy: the Haitian Experience, Montreal, 1974.

3. Haiti in Caribbean Context: Ethnicity, Economy & Revolt, London, 1985 (second edition was in preparation) French translation funded by & © David Nicholls Memorial Trust

4. On Controlling the Colonels, Hemisphere Report (Trinidad), July 1970

5. Appendix to F. Duvalier & L. Denis, Die Klassenfrage in der Geschichte Haitis, Dortmund,

1970, pp 102-9

6. Religion & Politics in Haiti, Canadian Journal of Political Science, 3:3, 1970, pp 400-14

7. Embryo-politics in Haiti, Government & Opposition, 6:1, 1971, pp 75-85

8. Biology & Politics in Haiti, Race, 13:2, 1971, pp 203-14 *

9. East Indians & Black Power in Trinidad, Race, 12:4, 1971, pp 443-60

10, Dynastic Republicanism in Haiti, (under pseudonym) Political Quarterly, 44:1, 1973, pp77-84

11. A work of Combat; mulatto historians & the Haitian past, Journal of Interamerican Studies, 16:1, l9 15-38 *

12. Ideology & Political Protest in Haiti, 1930-46, Journal of Contemporary History, 9:4, l9 pp 3-26

13. Idologie et mouvements politiques en Haiti, 1915-1946, Annales, Economies, Socits, Civilisations, 30:4, 1975, pp 654-79

14. Poorest country of the Western World, The Geographical Magazine, 50:1, 1977, pp 47-54

15. Race, couleur et indpendance en Hati, 1804-1825, Revue dHistoire Moderne et Contemporaine, 25, 1978, pp 177-212

16. The Wisdom of Salomon: myth or reality?, Journal of Interamerican Studies, 20:4, 1978, pp 3 77-392 *

17. Caste, Class & Colour in Haiti, in Cohn Clarke ed., Caribbean Social Relations, Liverpool,

1978, pp 4-16 *

18, Rural Protest & Peasant Revolt in Haiti, 1804-1869, in M. Cross & A. Marks, eds, Peasants, Plantations & Rural Communities in the Caribbean, Guildford & Leiden, 1979

19. Prosperous State of Unrest (on the Dominican Republic), The Geographical Magazine,

51:8, 1979, pp 555-59

20. No Hawkers & Pedlars, Levantines in the Caribbean, Ethnic & Racial Studies, 4:4, 1981, pp 415-31 $

21. Haitis Dynastic Despotism, (under pseudonym) in Caribbean Review, 13:1, 1984

22. Past and Present in Haitian Politics, in C.R. Foster & A. Valdman eds, Haiti - Today and Tomorrow, Lanham, Md., 1984.

23. Haiti and the Dominican Republic, in H. Blakemore & S. Collier eds, Cambridge Encyclopaedia of Latin America, Cambridge, 1985. Rewritten for second edition S. Collier et al eds (Cambridge 1992).

24. No More Duvalier but Still Divided, The Times (London), 10 February 1985

25. Cultural Dualism & Political Domination in Haiti, in Paul Sutton, ed. Dual Legacies in the Contemporary Caribbean, London, Frank Cass, 1986

26. Chapter on Haiti, c. 1870-1930, in L. Bethell, ed., The Cambridge History of Latin

America, v. Cambridge, 1986. (Spanish edition, Editorial Critica, Barcelona, 1992)

27. The Haitian Predicament, San German, Puerto Rico, 1986

28. The Syrians of Jamaica, The Jamaican HistoricaiReview, 15, 1986

29. Haiti: the Rise and Fall of Duvalierism, Third World Quarterly, 8:4, 1986, pp. 1239-1252.

30. Haiti: Race, Slavery and Independence, in L. Archer, ed., Slavery and Other Forms of Unfree Labour, (History Workshop volume), London, 1988.

31. Haiti, in A. Lowenthal, ed., Latin American and Caribbean Contemporary Record, 1986-7, 1989.

32. Chapter on Haiti: 1930 to present, in L. Bethell, ed., The Cambridge History of Latin America, vii, Cambridge, 1990

33. Pompe Valentin Vastey: Royalist and Revolutionary, Jahrbuch fir Geschichte von Staat, Wirtschafi und Gesellschafi Lateinamerikas, vol. 28, 1991; also in Revista de Historia de America, enero 1990, no 109.

34. Lebanese of the Antilles, in Albert Hourani & Nadim Shehadi, eds, The Lebanese in the World: a Century of Emigration (TB. Tauris: London, 1992)

35 Sultanism in Haiti? in Juan Linz & Houchang Chehabi eds, Sultanism, 1996

36. Various book reviews and short articles, in Government & Opposition, Caribbean Studies, J. of Commonwealth & Comparative Studies, Third World Quarterly, J. of Development Studies, Ethnic & Racial Studies, Political Studies, J. of Hispanic American Studies, J. of Imperial & Commonwealth History. International Affairs, Journal of Latin American Studies, Slavery and Abolition, Catholic World Report, Times Higher Education Supplement, Guardian, Daily Telegraph &c

* Spanish translations of these articles are published in Eme Eme, Estudios Dominicanos, nos, 40, 43, 44 & 47.

$ Spanish translation in Boletin: Museo del Hombre Dominicano, no 18, 1983


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