Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (College of Arts and Science)

Schools and Centres

Arts & Sciences

First Supervisor

Professor John Rees

Second Supervisor

Doctor Rosemary Hancock


This research examines the issue of Catholic agency in the academic discipline of International Relations (IR). Situated in the IR discourse on religion, its investigation is based on a select Catholic initiative in the international anti-slavery realm named the Santa Marta Group (SMG). It is a transnational Catholic-initiated and led coalition of predominantly Catholic and state actors collectively working together to eradicate modern slavery and human trafficking. I specifically analyse dimensions of the SMG from April 2014 to May 2018. Methodologically, a mixed-methods approach is adopted, combining a desk review and key informant interviews. This thesis has two interrelated questions as its main research focus: (i) How does a ‘thick’ Catholicism framework help analyse the Santa Marta Group? and (ii) What contribution does this approach make to understanding Catholic agency from an English School perspective? In response to these questions, and to better understand Catholic agency in IR, I analyse the SMG through repurposing a ‘thick’ religion framework theorised by Hassner. This framework—principally through its categories of ‘theology’, ‘hierarchy’, and ‘iconography’—is operationalised to provide an IR analysis of the SMG. Using that analysis, I apply it to two aspects of Catholic agency from an English School perspective identified from select English School voices on Catholicism. These two aspects are religious ideas, customs, and practices underpinning international society, and a preference of the Catholic Church between pluralist and solidarist conceptions of international society. The present research study makes four original contributions: (a) an IR analysis of the SMG, (b) an application of ‘thick’ religion, (c) the integration of ‘thick’ religion into English School theory, and (d) additional perspectives on the English School discourse on Catholicism. This thesis provides an understanding of Catholic agency in international society.