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Alister Hardy

Professor Emeritus of Zoology, Oxford
1896 to 1985

Alister Clavering Hardy was born on 10 February 1896 in Nottingham England. His parents were Elizabeth Clavering and architect Richard Hardy. He was educated at Oundle School a boarding school in Peterborough. In 1914 he enrolled at Exeter College Oxford to study forestry.

Hardy’s education was interrupted by the First World War during which he served in the Northern Cyclist Battalion and later as a camouflage officer. On his return to Oxford in 1919 he opted to change his degree to zoology reflecting his long-standing interest in naturalism. He was awarded the Christopher Welsh scholarship and graduated with distinction in 1921. He then spent some time in Naples researching marine plankton and was appointed Assistant Naturalist at the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries laboratory in Lowestoft.

Between 1924 and 1927 Hardy acted as chief zoologist on the Discovery expedition to the Antarctic where he studied zooplankton and their relation to whales as well as other marine mammals. A year after returning he took the post of Professor of Zoology at the University College of Hull. In 1942 he moved to Aberdeen to take the Regius Professorship of Natural History and three years later he became Linacre Professor of Zoology at Oxford. After retiring in 1963 he founded what would become the Alister Hardy Research Centre which aimed to research the phenomenon of religious experience.

The works that stem from his Gifford Lectures, The Divine Flame and The Living Stream, reflect his deep interest in natural theology. Scientific though his worldview was it was deeply integrated with his spiritual and religious impulse. He sought to develop a ‘science of natural theology’ by scientifically compiling and researching people’s religious experiences. The research centre he founded undertook this task and continues to do so today.

His work was given recognition in the form of the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion to the sum of $185000. This was perhaps the most prestigious of a great many awards and honours given to him over the course of his life.

Hardy died from a stroke in Oxford on 23 May 1985. His wife Sylvia Lucy died the same year.

His works include: Discovery Reports (1928–1935); The Open Sea, the first part of which was The World of Plankton (1956) and the second, Fish and Fisheries (1959); The Living Stream (1965); The Divine Flame (1966); Great Waters (1967); The Biology of God (1975); and Darwin and the Spirit of Man (1984).

  • Sam Addison, University of Aberdeen