Adrian Christopher Hastings, Catholic priest and theologian, was born in Kuala Lumpur on 23 June 1929 where his father was a lawyer. He was raised in Worcestershire from the age of two. Hastings was brought up a Roman Catholic but his family had a long tradition of Anglicanism and throughout his life he was a strong supporter of ecumenicism. He was educated at Benedictine Douai Abbey School and read history at Worcester College, Oxford, graduating in 1949. From an early age Hastings had wanted to work with the church and in his third year at Oxford he had joined the White Fathers with a view to going to Africa as a missionary. It soon became clear to him that to be a missionary would be inadequate and that he should go to Africa as a priest.
Hastings managed to secure a post under the only African Catholic bishop at the time, Joseph Kiwanuka of Masaka, Uganda, went to Rome for his training, and was ordained 1955. Three years later he finally left for Masaka where he acted as a curate and taught in the seminary. After the culmination of the Second Vatican Council, Hastings was made responsible for disseminating its finding to the region's clergy, which he did from a base in Tanzania between 1966 and 1968. Throughout the 1960s he was involved in forging links with the wider church in Africa and with Anglican communities in particular, and from 1968-1970 was on the staff of the Mindolo Ecumenical Foundation in Zambia. Ill health and his uncertainty about his ability to contribute as a white British theologian to the new independent African churches led Hastings to return to Britain in 1970.
After his return, Hastings was commissioned to make a study of marriage in Africa then, after a brief spell teaching at Selly Oak, Birmingham, he became Leverhulme Fellow at the School of Oriental African Studies, London, in 1973 where he stayed until 1976. Hastings spent the rest of his career as an academic: as fellow of St Edmund's House, Cambridge (1974-1976); lecturer in religious studies, Aberdeen University (1976-1982); professor of religious studies, University of Zimbabwe (1982-1985); and professor of theology and later head of department, Leeds University (1985-1994). His interests in religion in Africa, and in theology and church history in the 20th century, were reflected in numerous scholarly publications including A History of African Christianity 1950-1975 (1979), The Church in Africa 1445-1950 (1994), and A History of English Christianity (1986). Hastings was also a respected editor of the Journal of Religion in Africa between 1985 and 1999.
Hastings remained a radical and campaigning figure. He came to public prominence in 1973 during a meeting of the Catholic Institute for International Relations when he spoke out against Portuguese colonial oppression in Africa at the time of a visit of the Portuguese Prime Minister to Britain. He continued campaigning against injustice in Africa and elsewhere, becoming in the 1990s a founder member of the Alliance to Defend Bosnia-Herzegovina. He also continued to be outspoken against what he perceived as shortcomings in the Catholic church, such as attitudes to contraception and the authoritarianism of the Papacy. These beliefs led him to be marginalised by the Catholic church, in particular after he married Ann Spence in 1979 declaring that the theological justification for compulsory celibacy was wrong. Hastings was widely respected and, shortly before he died, it was proposed to elect him to Fellowship of the British Academy. He died in Leeds on 30 May 2001.