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John Harwood Hick

Professor of Philosophy of Religion, Emeritus, Claremont Graduate University
1922 to 2012

John Harwood Hick was born in Yorkshire in 1922. At the age of eighteen he experienced what he described as a ‘powerful evangelical conversion’ to Christianity while studying law at University College, Hull. He consequently decided to move to Edinburgh University to study philosophy with a view to later training for ministry in the Presbyterian Church of England. However his second year of study was interrupted by the Second World War. A conscientious objector on religious grounds, Hick opted to serve in the Friends’ Ambulance Unit rather than to join the military.

On his return in 1945, Hick completed the remaining three years of his philosophical training at Edinburgh, before winning the first Campbell Fraser scholarship to pursue graduate research at Oriel College, Oxford. Studying under H. H. Price, Hick obtained the D.Phil. degree with his thesis on the relation between faith and belief. (A revised version was later published in 1957 as Faith and Knowledge.)

Hick subsequently attended Westminster College, Cambridge for three years, leading to his ordination in the Presbyterian Church of England. He was married in 1953 and for the next three years served as pastor of a rural Presbyterian church in Northumberland.

In a return to academia Hick took up an invitation to teach philosophy of religion at Cornell University before moving to Princeton Theological Seminary in 1959 to serve as Professor of Christian Philosophy. It was during this period that he wrote his widely used introduction to philosophy of religion (now in its fourth edition). Although Hick still held to a relatively conservative Christian theology, by this time he had shed many of his earlier ‘fundamentalist’ convictions. A notable controversy was stirred up by his refusal to affirm the virgin birth of Christ when considered for membership of his local presbytery.

After a spell at the University of Cambridge Hick was appointed to the H. G. Wood Chair of Philosophy at the University of Birmingham in 1967. Confronted with the religious and sociocultural diversity of the city and troubled by intolerance and prejudice toward followers of faith traditions other than Christianity, Hick gravitated toward the religious pluralist position with which he is most commonly associated today. On a practical level he contributed to a number of initiatives in Birmingham to combat racism and promote interfaith relations.

In 1979 Hick was invited to take the Danforth Chair in the Philosophy of Religion at Claremont Graduate School in California, a position he held until 1992. He remained a Professor Emeritus at Claremont Graduate University until his death in 2012.

At Claremont he continued to advance his pluralist thesis a significant part of which involved arguing for revision or renunciation of those tenets of orthodox Christianity typically taken as establishing its superiority or exclusivity (such as a literal interpretation of the doctrine of the Incarnation).

In 1986–1987 Hick delivered the Gifford Lectures at the University of Edinburgh, in which he presented his own innovative contribution to the project of developing a self-consciously religious interpretation of religious experience. The material was published in an expanded form as An Interpretation of Religion (1989), a work regarded as one of the most philosophically sophisticated and influential defences of religious pluralism to date.

Hick served as Vice-President of the British Society for the Philosophy of Religion and Vice-President of the World Congress of Faiths.

His works include: Faith and Knowledge (1957); Philosophy of Religion (1963); Evil and the God of Love (1966); Arguments for the Existence of God (1970); God and the Universe of Faiths (1973); Death and Eternal Life (1976); God Has Many Names (1980); An Interpretation of Religion (1989); The Metaphor of God Incarnate (1993); The Rainbow of Faiths (1995); John Hick: An Autobiography (2003).

  • James Anderson, University of Edinburgh