The Rev Dr James Parkes
The inspiration behind the Parkes Institute is the legacy of the Revd Dr James Parkes (1896-1981), one of the most remarkable figures in British Christianity in the twentieth century. Born in Guernsey, he graduated with a degree in Theology from Hertford College, Oxford in 1923. In the same year he was ordained a deacon, becoming a priest in 1926. Although he was never to acquire his own parish, he became affiliated to the Student Christian Movement and the International Student Service, Geneva, through which he began to confront the growth of nationalist and racialist organisations in Europe during the late 1920s. Thereafter, he devoted his career to fighting antisemitism and seeking out its origins.
Closely related to his academic interest were his campaigning activities. He was involved in the infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion trial in Geneva in 1935. During the 1930s and 1940s he helped to mobilise British opinion on behalf of Jewish victims of Nazi persecution, playing a leading role in helping refugees escape from the 'Third Reich' and in the formation of the Council of Christians and Jews in 1942.
Parkes believed that in order to establish future dialogue between Christians and Jews it was essential to understand what Christians had thought about Jews and the Jewish religion throughout the ages, and he began to collect all that he could on the subject. In 1956 the Parkes Library was officially established and eight years later it was transferred to the University of Southampton where it has increased in size to over 20,000 printed items and over 500 collections of manuscripts, containing over one million items.
Throughout his life, Parkes wrote extensively on Judaism, Christianity and antisemitism both under his own name and under the pseudonym, John Hadham.
The Writings of James Parkes
His conviction that it was every Christian's duty to respect the religious integrity of Judaism and to abandon all attempts to proselytize placed his work several generations ahead of his time.
Parkes' University of Oxford doctoral thesis, published as The Conflict of the Church and Synagogue: a Study in the Origins of Anti-Semitism (London: Soncino Press, 1934), reflects his pioneer approach in the field of Jewish/Christian relations, for which Parkes received several honorary degrees, including doctorates from the Jewish Institute of Religion in New York, the University of Southampton, a Fellowship of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, a Research Fellowship of University College London, and the Nicholas and Hedy Munk Brotherhood Award from Canada.
Parkes wrote several hundred articles, pamphlets and books during an academic career spanning over fifty years. During this time Parkes' writings were published in wide ranging works from The Jewish Chronicle, The Observer, and Punch, to The Fig Tree: a Douglas Social Credit Quarterly Review - Parkes also took part in several BBC Home Service radio debates concerning Jewish and Christian religious practices. The writings of James Parkes form important contributions to the study, not only of antisemitism and Jewish/Christian relations, but also such diverse subject fields as the history of Jewish sectarianism in the ancient world (more specifically the Pharisaic movement), and modern Zionism.
In recent years, his writing and life history have been rediscovered. He is included in the Dictionary of National Biography (1981-1985) and his biography, Christianity without anti-Semitism: James Parkes and the Jewish Christian Encounter by Robert Everett, was published by Pergamon Press in 1993. He stands as a seminal figure in Marcus Braybrooke's official history of the Council of Christians and Jews, Children of One God (1991) and is the subject of two forthcoming biographies.