Major lecture on 24 March: Equality, disabled people, economics and public services

Major lecture on 24 March: Equality, disabled people, economics and public services

I am looking forward to delivering my forthcoming lecture in the Swansea University Public Lectures in Theology series (24 March 2014, details below), and I am very appreciative to the University for giving me this opportunity.

In 2010, my book Disabled Church, Disabled Society – the Implications of Autism for Philosophy, Theology and Politics was published. Last year it was shortlisted for the Michael Ramsey Prize for theological writing at the Hay Festival.

In the book, I reflected on the experience of caring for our son Adam, who is a young man on the autistic spectrum. If I was to sum up the message of the book it is that autism presents challenges to the whole western tradition of thought, in theology, philosophy and politics.

Inevitably, such an approach threw up many questions on which I have continued to reflect. In this lecture, I will not only be introducing the original book, but sharing for the first time some of my more recent thinking on the subject.

Adam can speak a few words, but cannot sustain a conversation. Without speaking he has renewed my understanding of equality. I believe that he – as a person with substantial disabilities – is absolutely equal with all others, and enjoying in his own way the rights which belong to all. It is these rights which provide his best defence, within the public sphere, in a political forum in which he is otherwise necessarily silent.

It is not possible to claim rights for one, without asserting them for all. If we can pick and choose the rights of others, then they cease to be rights at all. Thus from Adam, I have understood the importance of equality both within and outside the church: equality for LGBTI people, equality for women, equality for people with disabilities, equality for all.

Essential to maintaining the equality of disabled people is the provision of quality public services. We need to ask the question of what is for Adam a fulfilled and abundant life, and provide him with the support which he needs for that. In the lecture, I will be looking at the context of public services in a world of austerity.

The ethical question may well not be “What should we cut?”, but rather, “What, in a civilised and caring society should not be cut in any set of circumstances?” I will reflect on the possibility that the provision of care may well be the new motor of the economy, to replace both traditional heavy industry and (London-based) financial services. In a post-capitalist world, the real medium of exchange may well be care, given and received.

Above all, I can promise a lively evening. I look forward to answering questions, and exploring together with the audience where the way ahead may lie on so many issues. I suspect that after the crash of 2008, nobody really yet knows the answers. The important thing is to have the conversation.

* Details of the lecture here:


© John Gillibrand is a priest in the Church in Wales (Offeriad Anglican ac awdur). His book Disabled Church - Disabled Society is published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers ( His doctoral studies carried out at the University of Wales, Bangor, were on the applicability of the thought of Michel Foucault to Christian theology. He lives in Carmarthenshire, Wales and works in the Diocese of St David's in West Wales / Cymru. Follow him on Twitter at: @john_gillibrand

The Theology Public Lecture Programme at Swansea University was first set up by the Rev Nigel John, Senior Chaplain at the University, and has featured internationally respected Church leaders and world renowned academics who have spoken on a range of different topics.

Ekklesia is delighted to be promoting and supporting Dr Gillibrand's lecture in the latest series.

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