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The Centre for Philosophy of Religion

History and aims of the Centre

The Centre for Philosophy of Religion was launched at Heythrop in 2009, with Professor Fiona Ellis as Director, Professor John Cottingham and Professor Keith Ward as Professorial Research Fellows. It now has Dr Edward Howells as an additional member. It was founded with the following mission statement:

The Heythrop Centre for Philosophy of Religion is committed to excellence in research into all aspects of Philosophy of Religion. It aims to expand the subject beyond the confines of a narrow specialist discipline by re-establishing the links between religion as a set of theoretical claims and its moral, psychological and spiritual aspects, and by exploring how it is related to contemporary secular and scientific thought. It will approach philosophy of religion in a way that is sensitive to the beliefs and practices of the great religions, and encourage interaction with other branches of philosophy as well as broader interdisciplinary collaboration. The centre aims to develop a vigorous research culture by organizing conferences, seminars, and public lectures, attracting good research students from the UK and overseas, and fostering high quality research output, individually or in collaboration, by members of the Centre and of the College’s other academic Departments.


In the comparative short time since its inception, the Centre has had outstanding success in furthering its aims. Its distinctive way of doing philosophy of religion has been acknowledged and commended, and its research is internationally recognised. The Centre’s work has been disseminated through a substantial programme of conferences, public lectures, book launches and publications. We have succeeded in winning two successive major research grants funded by the John Templeton Foundation.

The first research project, New Models of Religious Understanding (2015-16) was part of the Varieties of Understanding initiative co-ordinated at Fordham University, New York. The project involved research by the members of the Centre, together with some distinguished invited participants, culminating in an international conference at Heythrop in 2016. The background to the project was Ellis’s work on theistic naturalism (God, Value, and Nature, OUP, 2014), and Cottingham's work on humane models of philosophy of religion (Philosophy of Religion: Towards a more Humane Approach, CUP, 2014). Following the successful completion of the project in Summer 2016, the resulting volume of original research papers, edited by Ellis, will shortly be published by OUP. This volume will serve as a showcase for our conception of philosophy of religion.

The second research project, Religious Experience and Desire ran from 2016-17, and is part of the Experience Project, coordinated from Notre Dame University. It is co-directed by Ellis and Cottingham, together with Clare Carlisle (Senior Lecturer in Philosophy and Theology at Kings College London), and Howells is also part of the team. The project aimed to shed fresh light on the nature of religious and spiritual experience and its connections to two essential features of religious life: desire and practice. The relevant research papers will be published in a special edition of the journal Religious Studies in 2019. Our work has benefited significantly from collaboration with a Cambridge working group studying the religious significance of desire, originally set up by Sarah Coakley (Norris Hulse Professor of Divinity at Cambridge) in conjunction with Ellis and Carlisle, which involves growing numbers of staff and graduate students from London and Cambridge.

Ellis is about to embark upon a new project entitled Supernaturalism and Naturalism: Beyond the Divide. This project is funded by Porticus UK, and involves a development of some of the ideas of her book God, Value, and Nature (OUP 2014). It will be co-directed by Mario De Caro of Roma Tre University who is well known for defending a non-theistic version of liberal naturalism, and involves a team of researchers including John Cottingham, Keith Ward, Akeel Bilgrami, Lynne Baker, David Macarthur, Kate Sonderegger, and Hans Fink. Seminars will be open to the public but space will be limited.

Ellis and Cottingham are planning a new project for 2019-2021 entitled The Quest for God: Rethinking Desire. This will be done in collaboration with Clare Carlisle (KCL) and Talbot Brewer (Virginia).   

Recent publications

New Models of Religious Understanding.jpg

New Models of Religious Understanding, edited by Fiona Ellis, Heythrop College, 2017




how to beleive.jpg How to Believe, Professor John Cottingham, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the University of Reading; Honorary Fellow of St John’s College, Oxford; Professorial Fellow, Heythrop College.



christ and the cosmos.jpg Christ and the Cosmos, Professior Keith Ward, Regius Professor of Divinity (Emeritus),Oxford; Professorial Fellow, Heythrop College



Get in touch

For further information on the Centre for Philosophy and Religion, please contact the director:

Fiona Ellis
Centre for Philosophy and Religion
Heythrop College, Kensington Square
London W8 5HQ 

Other Staff

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