Between Kin and Cosmopolis: An Ethic of the Nation

By Nigel Biggar

A challenging theological study of modern nationalism and the nation-state, evaluated from the viewpoint of Christian ethics.

ISBN: 9780227174722


The nation-state is here to stay. Thirty years ago it was fashionable to predict its imminent demise, but the sudden break-up of the Soviet Union in the 1990s unshackled long-repressed nationalisms and generated a host of new states. The closer integration of the European Union has given intra-national nationalisms a new lease of life, confirming the viability of small nation-states under a supra-national umbrella – after all, if Ireland and Iceland, then why not Quebec and Catalonia? What’s more, the world stage has seen new and powerful national players moving from the wings to the centre: China, India, and Brazil are full of a sense of growing into their own national destinies and are in no mood either to dissolve into, or to defer to, some larger body. And yet, closer to home, the recent Scottish referendum has illustrated all too clearly the downsides of the lust for independence, leaving in its wake a trail of sharpened divisions and unappeased nationalist sentiments.

Nations, nationalisms, and nation-states are evidently persistent facts, but what should we think of them morally? Surely humanity, not a nation, should claim our loyalty? How can it be right to exclude foreigners by policing borders? Can a liberal nation-state thrive without a cohering public orthodoxy? Does national sovereignty confer immunity? Is national separatism always justified? These are urgent questions. Between Kin and Cosmopolis offers timely Christian answers.

Additional information

Dimensions 229 × 153 mm
Pages 122

Trade Information JPOD

About the Author

Nigel Biggar is Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology, and Director of the McDonald Centre for Theology, Ethics, and Public Life at the University of Oxford.



1. Loyalty and Limits
2. Unity in Diversity? The English Case
3. Sovereignty and Responsibility
4. Nationalism and Empire


General Index
Scripture Index


Endorsements and Reviews

The debate about immigration has become the most toxic issue in politics. We have lacked a framework for considered discussion and populism has stepped in. In this well-researched and articulate hundred pages on national identity and independence, Nigel Biggar gives us just such a framework, demonstrating yet again the value of public theology. He makes an outstanding contribution.
Iain R. Torrance, University of Aberdeen

Biggar writes with the full command of a capacious and prudential theological tradition, without ever being obscure, jargonistic, or dry. He is never afraid of strong judgements, but also never fails to give all his reasoning respectfully. The result is a forceful, well-paced text that commands attention and respect.
Christopher J. Insole, Durham University

The ethical-political conclusions Biggar presses as he goes about the work … are where he may delight some with his self-conscious iconoclasm … This book contains some thoughtful and helpful theological reasoning about the ethics of the nation.
Doug Gay, in Third Way, Vol 39, Issue 4

Biggar has developed and refined his earlier arguments, weaving them together in this new work in order to raise pertinent and urgent moral questions for those with an interest in the public square and global affairs … Whatever your politics, you will find Between Kin and Cosmopolis current and compelling. It will challenge you to think about competing and complimentary worldviews and how they affect matters of national and international importance.
Stanley Gamble, in Search: A Church of Ireland Journal, Vol 38.2

A hugely impressive achievement. … Between Kin and Cosmopolis is a textbook example of how to do public theology in a way that should engage even those who dismiss the concept altogether. … Agree or disagree with Between Kin and Cosmopolis you cannot fail to benefit from it.
Nick Spencer, in Theos, 1 May 2015

Between Kin and Cosmopolis combines biblical exegesis, theological reflection, political theory, and historical and contemporary geopolitical analysis with great sophistication, thoughtfulness, and – joy of joys – accessibility. It is an excellent example of what Christian political thought can be.
Nick Spencer, in Church Times, 24 July 2015

… full of good sense, and the book has the flavour of a serious after-dinner conversation.
Oliver O’Donovan, in Theology, Vol 119.1