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Sarah Coakley

Deputy chair of the School of Arts and Humanities, University of Cambridge

Sarah Coakley is an Anglican theologian who holds one of the top chairs in Divinity at Cambridge University. She has also led major research projects on theology and the biological concept of evolutionary cooperation, and has written extensively on Christian theology and feminism.

Born in 1951 in England, Coakley earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at New Hall College, which is the historic women-only school at Cambridge University. It has recently been renamed Murray Edwards College. She also earned her doctorate in theology at the school, and later a master’s in theology from Harvard Divinity School.

In addition to serving Anglican and Episcopal congregations in England and the United States as an ordained priest, Coakley began her teaching as a lecturer and senior lecturer in religious studies at Lancaster University, England. She taught as a tutorial fellow in theology at Oriel College, Oxford, and then spent from 1993 to 2007 at Harvard Divinity School, where she was Mallinckrodt Professor of Divinity. She also taught a year at Princeton as Eli Lilly Visiting Professor of Religion. In 2007 Coakley took up her appointment as Norris-Hulse Professor of Divinity at Cambridge University, where she is also a fellow of Murray Edwards College, her alma mater.

While teaching at Harvard, Coakley co-directed two major research projects on theology and biology. The first (2005–2008) was titled “Evolution and the Theology of Cooperation.” The second was part of the Harvard “Mind, Brain, Behavior” project, and explored the topic of “Pain and Its Transformations.” The project resulted in Coakley’s book of the same title. Coakley is currently working on a four-volume systematic theology. The first volume was published in 2013 by Cambridge University Press as God, Sexuality and the Self: An Essay ‘On the Trinity.’

As a priest, scholar, teacher, and mother of two daughters, Coakley has described her interests as wide-ranging. They include the nature of human rationality, the passions, the idea of the “spiritual senses,” and the nature of religious truth claims. She did her doctoral thesis on the Christology of Ernst Troeltsch, a German theologian and sociologist of church history, and she has also had a particular interest in the patristic period of the first few hundred years of the early Christian tradition. She has exposited on gender theory and feminist philosophy. Her inaugural lecture for her appointment at Cambridge was titled “Sacrifice Regained: Reconsidering the Rationality of Christian Belief” (published by Cambridge University Press, 2011).

She has written numerous journal articles, studies for the Anglican Church, and an array of book chapters for anthologies. She has also edited or coedited several volumes of collected essays, which include such titles as The Oxford Handbook to the Reception History of Christian Theology (2013), Evolution, Games and God: The Principle of Cooperation (2012/13), Spiritual Healing: Science, Meaning and Discernment (2012/13), Faith, Rationality and the Passions (2012), The New Asceticism: Sexuality, Gender and the Quest for God (2012), The Spiritual Senses: Perceiving God in Western Christianity (2012), Re-Thinking Dionysius the Areopagite (2009), Praying for England: Priestly Presence in Contemporary Culture (2008), Pain and Its Transformations: The Interface of Biology and Culture (2007), Re-thinking Gregory of Nyssa (2003), Religion and the Body (1997), and The Making and Remaking of Christian Doctrine (1993). Her monograph books include Sacrifice Regained: Reconsidering the Rationality of Religious Belief (2011), Powers and Submissions: Spirituality, Philosophy and Gender (2002), and Christ Without Absolutes: A Study of the Christology of Ernst Troeltsch (1988).