John Hick, 1922-2012

March 8, 2012

A world authority on interfaith relations, John Hick engaged in lively discussions on philosophy and theology with peers and students until he was 90 years old.

Professor Hick grew up in Scarborough. While studying law at University College Hull he underwent a conversion to Christian evangelism, a stance that by his own admission he did not abandon for years. After serving in the Friends Ambulance Unit from 1942, Professor Hick returned from the war to pursue philosophy at the University of Edinburgh and went on to study theology at Westminster College, Cambridge.

Having trained for the ministry of the Presbyterian Church of England, he was married and ordained as minister of Belford Presbyterian Church in Northumberland. In 1956 he was invited to join Cornell University as assistant professor of philosophy and crossed the Atlantic in the RMS Queen Mary with his wife and baby daughter.

He later became Stuart professor of Christian philosophy at Princeton Theological Seminary and published the acclaimed Philosophy of Religion (1963) - but was charged with heresy by the local presbytery, a charge backed by the Synod of New Jersey. Its annual General Assembly eventually reversed the judgement and Professor Hick was able to continue at the seminary.

Shortly afterwards, he returned to England as a lecturer in the philosophy of religion at the University of Cambridge before his appointment as H.G. Wood professor of theology at the University of Birmingham.

In 1991, he received the Louisville Grawemeyer Award in Religion for his book An Interpretation of Religion: Human Responses to the Transcendent (1989).

David Cheetham, co-director of the John Hick Centre at Birmingham, met the professor after he retired in 1999. He said that although Professor Hick's viewpoints were controversial, "he was always concerned to make sure that he did not misrepresent opponents' views".

Professor Hick also believed that "one cannot learn the reality of religion from books without spending time in its heartland", and spent several sabbaticals in India learning about Hinduism and Sikhism. His advocacy of religious pluralism was manifest in his anti-racism work at Birmingham, where he co-founded All Faiths for One Race and played a pivotal role in promoting interfaith relations.

Sharada Sugirtharajah, senior lecturer in Hindu studies at Birmingham, said she had been "deeply touched" by Professor Hick's "respect for people from diverse backgrounds", adding: "It was so refreshing to come across a person like John whose theological...concerns were not divorced from what was happening on the ground."

Professor Hick died on 9 February and is survived by three children and six grandchildren.

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