Professor Bretherton’s primary areas of research, supervision and teaching are Christian ethics/moral theology, the intellectual and social history of Christian political thought, political theology, the relationship between Christianity and capitalism, missiology, and practices of social, political and economic witness. Before joining the Duke faculty, he was reader in Theology & Politics and convener of the Faith & Public Policy Forum at King's College London. He has worked with a variety of faith-based NGOs, mission agencies, and churches around the world, particularly in Central and Eastern Europe.
His first book, Hospitality as Holiness: Christian Witness Amid Moral Diversity (Ashgate, 2006) explores the theological responses to moral pluralism in critical dialogue with Alasdair MacIntyre’s moral philosophy. It develops a constructive, theological response to the issues identified via the motif of "hospitality" and uses euthanasia and the hospice movement as a case study through which to examine the implications of this response. Other previous work has focused on faith-based organizations, the church’s involvement in social welfare provision, community organizing, the treatment of refugees, and fair trade. This was drawn together in Christianity & Contemporary Politics: The Conditions and Possibilities of Faithful Witness (Wiley-Blackwell, 2010), winner of the 2013 Michael Ramsey Prize for Theological Writing.
His more recent research focused on the intersections between Christianity, radical democracy, globalization, responses to poverty, and patterns of inter-faith relations. Developed out a four year ethnographic study of community organizing initiatives, this research is published in Resurrecting Democracy: Faith, Citizenship and the Politics of a Common Life (Cambridge University Press, 2015). The book addresses debates about the relationship between democratic citizenship, religious beliefs and practices, and the power of money.
He was recently awarded a Henry Luce III Fellow in Theology to begin a new project entitled "A Constructive Theology of Conversion” in which he will reconsider the nature and form of conversion, which is central to Christian self-understanding. Conversion is a much contested phenomenon and debates about it touch on issues of the day such as free speech, moral and religious diversity, and the nature of secularity. At its heart, the project will draw on ancient and modern theological and philosophical conceptions of conversion as a prism through which to reimagine and re-narrate moral and political understandings of change, contrasting conversion with many of the ways change is currently framed such as “development,” “emergence,” and “revolution.”
As well as academic articles published in journals such as Modern Theology, Journal of the American Academy of Religion, and Studies in Christian Ethics, he writes in the media (including The Guardian, The Times and ABC Religion and Ethics) on topics related to religion and politics.