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  Adrian Christopher Hastings (1929–2001), by Frank Barratt, 1973 Adrian Christopher Hastings (1929–2001), by Frank Barratt, 1973
Hastings, Adrian Christopher (1929–2001), theologian and church historian, was born on 23 June 1929 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaya, the fifth of the six children of William George Warren Hastings (1881–1952), lawyer, and his wife, Hazel Mary, née Daunais (1897–1993) [see ], a teacher and prominent Roman Catholic laywoman. Before his second birthday his mother returned to England to bring up the children, first in Great Malvern and then in Oxford. William Hastings died before he could enjoy retirement with his family, and Hazel devoted part of her long widowhood to keeping house for her son Adrian. After Douai Abbey school, Hastings went to Worcester College, Oxford, to read history—‘the only subject worth studying’ (In Filial Disobedience, 31). His Oxford friendships were important and lifelong. He gained only a second-class degree in 1949, largely because he was preparing his first publication, an article on St Benedict (published in the Downside Review in 1950), instead of preparing for his final examinations.

His grandfather, , was a Liberal MP and social reformer. Hastings was a member of a devotedly Catholic family, with close links to Stanbrook Abbey, Worcestershire, and his early decision to become a priest was perhaps not surprising. Rather more surprising was his decision to go to Uganda, not as a missionary but as an ordinary diocesan priest, under Joseph Kiwanuka, then the only African Catholic bishop on the continent. Hastings trained for the priesthood at seminaries in Surrey and the Netherlands, and finally at Urban College in Rome, where he was ordained in 1955 and was awarded his doctorate in 1958. His thesis on ecclesiology was published as One and Apostolic in 1963. Always seeking additional challenges, in Rome he also wrote his first book, Prophet and Witness in Jerusalem: a Study of the Teaching of Saint Luke (1958), and edited another, The Church and the Nations (1959). Meanwhile he qualified as a teacher, gaining a PGCE from Christ's College, Cambridge, in 1958.

In any account of Hastings's life, publications take centre stage. His bibliography eventually included twenty-one books of his own, as well as eight edited volumes and numerous scholarly papers. He also produced a parallel set of writings in newspapers—articles and letters on very varied topics, often fulminating against injustice. Already in 1954–5 as a student in Rome he had conducted his first journalistic campaign, in The Tablet and the Catholic Herald, supporting Goan independence from Portugal. (The association with The Tablet lasted for almost fifty years, his final piece being published two months before he died.) Twenty years after his writings about Goa, he engaged again with the Portuguese government, this time on African ground, in a widely publicized exposure of the massacre by Portuguese troops of villagers in Wiriyamu, Mozambique, in 1972. The fall of the Portuguese government in the ‘carnation revolution’ (1974) was, he liked to think, not unconnected with the international publicity he precipitated about Portuguese colonial policy generally and Wiriyamu in particular.

Africa was another crucial strand in Hastings's life, fundamental to his teaching and research. His first African experience, as a diocesan priest, was deeply rewarding but also at times deeply frustrating. The Catholic church did not know how to deal with this brilliant, scholarly, liberal Englishman, who found it hard to keep quiet when he disagreed with the authorities. After his parish work in Uganda it was something of a relief to him to move into the public sphere with two important writing commissions, a summary and interpretation of the documents of the Second Vatican Council (published 1968–9) and a report for the Anglican church on Christian and customary marriage in Africa (1973).

In 1973 Hastings's formal academic career began, with a research fellowship at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London, and then (from 1976) a lectureship, then readership, in religious studies at the University of Aberdeen. The books resulting from this period, African Christianity (1976) and A History of African Christianity, 1950–1975 (1979), established him as a leading authority on the church in Africa. He was again in the public eye in 1978–9, having ‘come to the decision that I am free as a Catholic priest to marry’ (In Filial Disobedience, 13). While not rejecting the worth of celibacy itself, he rejected the law of priestly celibacy. On 31 March 1979 he married (Elizabeth) Ann Spence (b. 1940), whom he had met when both were teaching at the College of the Ascension, Selly Oak, Birmingham. She was the daughter of Mervyn Metcalfe Spence, telecommunications engineer. While Hastings's position within the Catholic church was difficult, and opportunities for exercising formal priestly functions were inevitably limited after his marriage, Hastings remained both husband and priest for the rest of his life.

After a spell as professor of religious studies at the University of Zimbabwe (1982–5), Hastings joined the University of Leeds as professor of theology and head of the department of theology and religious studies in 1985. As with all endeavours, he approached this appointment with careful planning, great energy, and enthusiasm, not forgetting an element of ruthlessness (a quality which also helped make him an outstanding editor). A superb organizer, he reformed a department badly affected by the university cuts of the early 1980s, driving himself and his colleagues hard, not always popular but respected by those who understood his mission. By outraged letters to university policy-makers, and equally outraged interventions in senate, he strove to keep academic interests in the foreground. He was an inspiring teacher, taking pains to nurture promising students and guide their careers, and his unobtrusive pastoral care was deeply valued by its recipients.

From 1991 the Balkans became a central concern for Hastings, involving writing, radio and television appearances, and regular public meetings, including a Trafalgar Square rally. He devoted much time and energy, risking his health, which was never robust, to supporting Bosnia in the wars following the disintegration of Yugoslavia. He attacked the British government for ‘sustained collusion’ in ‘the greatest public crime in post-Second World War European history’ (The Shaping of Prophecy, 145). While such public activities and writings were inevitably accompanied by passion, all Hastings's arguments were carefully researched and backed by an impressive command of statistics. The scholar was always standing behind the activist.

Early in the Bosnian war Hastings was allowed some remission of his university duties, but he soon resumed them, and did not neglect his other writings. His Leeds years were framed by major historical works: on arrival he was completing A History of English Christianity, 1920–1985 (1986), which quickly became a standard text, and shortly before retirement in 1994 he completed The Church in Africa, 1450–1950 (1994), regarded by many as his magnum opus. He had also edited the Journal of Religion in Africa from 1985. This was not quite the end of his African research, and he continued to edit the Journal of Religion in Africa until 2000, but he moved into other areas. The concept of nationhood fascinated him, and he approached the writing of the Wiles lectures (1996) at Queen's University, Belfast—published as The Construction of Nationhood (1997)—with great excitement. There were other projects, and many public lectures, but the work that dominated his retirement was The Oxford Companion to Christian Thought (2000). His last book was a biography of an Anglican bishop, Oliver Tomkins (2001), a leading member of the ecumenical movement—entirely appropriate for a committed ecumenist who described himself as a ‘Protestant Catholic’.

Ironically, Hastings was not a keen traveller, and often spent holidays in his beloved cottage at Chase End in the Malvern Hills. Retirement, however, gave him opportunities to visit Bosnia, Australia (where he was reunited with friends from Urban College), and Uganda, after twenty-eight years' absence. There he was fêted by his former pupils from Bukalasa seminary, and in a Tablet article he wrote with affection and pride of the boys he had taught and of their current roles in the new professional class of modern Uganda.

Towards the very end of his life, Hastings learned with delight that he had been proposed for election to a fellowship of the British Academy. He was unable to take up his fellowship, however, since he died on 30 May 2001 at St James's University Hospital, Leeds. He was buried at St Mary's Church, East Hendred, Oxfordshire, on 11 June, two days after a requiem mass at Blackfriars, Oxford. He was survived by his wife, Ann. After his death tributes, public and private, stressed not only his stature as scholar, mentor, campaigner, and prophet, but also his kindness. His works of English and African church history had become essential texts for students in those fields, and The Construction of Nationhood was a valued contribution to the debate on this subject. His other books, especially the collections of his essays, covered a broad sweep of history, religion, politics, and literature, in clear and beautiful prose and with illuminating references. They provided a partial substitute for the unwritten autobiography, outlining the life and thought of a twentieth-century scholar-priest and activist with an unfashionably broad range of research interests, who gave himself unsparingly to every enterprise, whether a humanitarian cause, an undergraduate seminar on Aquinas, a school production of Hamlet in 1950s Uganda, the publication of a protégé's book, or a well-cut hedge.

Hastings was devoted both to the individual members and to the idea of his family, as quintessentially English landowners. When asked, as an associate editor of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, to suggest more women subjects, he submitted a charming short entry on his mother. He had long intended to write a family history, structured around the houses connected with them, but other commitments had always intruded. When he was very close to death and hardly speaking at all, he somehow rallied for a time and gave firm and detailed instructions to his youngest sister on how she was to complete this essential task on his behalf.

Ingrid Lawrie


A. Hastings, Wiriyamu (1974) · A. Hastings, In filial disobedience (1978) · A. Hastings, In the hurricane: essays on Christian living today (1986) · A. Hastings, African Catholicism: essays in discovery (1989), 69–81 · A. Hastings, The shaping of prophecy: passion, perception and practicality (1995) · A. Hastings, ‘African Christian studies, 1967–1999: reflections of an editor’, Journal of Religion in Africa, 30/1 (2000), 30–44 · A. Hastings, ‘Good news from Uganda’, The Tablet (6 Jan 2001), 6–7 · P. Gifford, ‘Profile: Adrian Hastings’, Epworth Review, 26/4 (1999), 13–22 · The Times (31 May 2001) · The Independent (7 June 2001) · The Tablet (9 June 2001) · The Guardian (15 June 2001) · Daily Telegraph (26 June 2001) · The Times (24 Sept 2001) · H. S. Pyper, memorial address, Blackfriars church, Oxford, 9 June 2001; repr. in I. Lawrie, ed., Adrian Hastings, 23 June 1929 – 30 May 2001 (privately printed, Leeds, 2001), 2–5 · J. K. Elliott, ‘Professor Adrian Hastings: church historian and political activist’, Adrian Hastings, 23 June 1929 – 30 May 2001, ed. I. Lawrie (privately printed, Leeds, 2001), 18 · J. D. Y. Peel, ‘Adrian Hastings, 1929–2001: an appreciation’, Journal of Religion in Africa, 31/4 (2001), 493–503 · I. Lawrie, ‘The shaping of a prophet: the African career and writings of Adrian Hastings’, ‘Adrian Hastings's bibliography, 1950–2002’, Christianity and the African imagination: essays in honour of Adrian Hastings, ed. D. Maxwell and I. Lawrie (2002), 333–66, 367–406 · WW (2001) · personal knowledge (2005) · private information (2005) · m. cert. · d. cert.


U. Leeds, Brotherton L.


F. Barratt, photograph, 1973, Hult. Arch. [see illus.] · photograph, 1974, Hult. Arch. · photograph, repro. in The Times (31 May 2001) · photograph, repro. in The Independent · photograph, repro. in The Guardian · photograph, repro. in Daily Telegraph

Wealth at death  

£284,398: probate, 19 Feb 2002, CGPLA Eng. & Wales