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"NETWORKS, NODES AND NUCLEI: TOWARDS A NEW THEORY OF RELIGIOUS CHANGE" – MCCOSH LECTURE Cropped hands opening a book against black background, with inset images of Professor David Hempton and Rev Dr James McCosh, plus logos from Queen's, Harvard Divinity School and British Academy

07 September 2020

The 2020 McCosh Lecture is to be delivered on Friday 18 September by Queen’s University Belfast graduate Professor David Hempton (BA 1974), Dean of Harvard Divinity School.

Originally the Religious Studies Lecture, it is named in honour of James McCosh (1811-1894) who was appointed Chair of Logic and Metaphysics at Queen’s in 1850, shortly after the opening of the College.

An introduction to the 2020 McCosh Lecture will be provided by Professor Richard English CBE FBA MRIA FRSE FRHistS, Professor of Politics, Distinguished Professorial Fellow in the Senator George J. Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice and Pro Vice-Chancellor for Internationalisation and Engagement at Queen's.

Professor David N Hempton

An internationally recognised historian of Christianity with a distinguished scholarly record Professor Hempton (pictured above, top left) has broad ranging interests in religion, political culture, identity, and ethnic conflict, and the history and theology of Evangelical Protestantism.

He is the Alonzo L. McDonald Family Professor of Evangelical Theological Studies, John Lord O’Brian Professor of Divinity, and Dean of Harvard Divinity School. A Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, he is former Professor of Modern History and Director of the School of History at Queen’s.

Professor Hempton has delivered many endowed lectures including the Cadbury Lectures at the University of Birmingham, the F.D. Maurice Lectures at King’s College London, and the Tate-Willson Lectures at Southern Methodist University.  

He is the author of over a hundred articles, book chapters and books including:

  • Methodism and Politics in British Society 1750-1850 (Stanford University Press, 1984), winner of the Whitfield prize of the Royal Historical Society;
  • Religion and Political Culture in Britain and Ireland: From the Glorious Revolution to the Decline of Empire (Cambridge University Press, 1996); Methodism: Empire of the Spirit (Yale University Press, 2005), winner of the Jesse Lee prize;
  • Evangelical Disenchantment: Nine Portraits of Faith and Doubt (Yale University Press, 2008), The Church in the Long Eighteenth Century (I. B. Tauris, 2011), winner of the Albert C. Outler Prize of the American Society of Church History;
  • And most recently (with Hugh McLeod ed.), Secularization and Religious Innovation in the North Atlantic World (Oxford University Press, 2017).

Born in February 1952 in Northern Ireland, David Hempton earned his BA Modern History (1974) from Queen's, before completing his PhD (1977) at the University of St Andrews. He began teaching at Queen's in 1979, where he was Professor of Modern History and Director of the School of History.

In 1998 he joined the faculty of Boston University, where he was Professor of the History of Christianity, and in 2008 named ‘Outstanding Teacher of the Year’ at the Divinity School. In 2007, he was appointed as the first Alonzo L. McDonald Family Professor of Evangelical Theological Studies at Harvard Divinity School, and in 2012 it was announced he would succeed William A. Graham as Dean.

A Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and recently announced as an Honorary Member of the Royal Irish Academy, Professor Hempton is a former chairman of the Wiles Trust founded in 1951 by Sir Herbert Butterfield to promote innovative thinking on the history of civilization, broadly conceived.

Awarded an honorary Doctor of Literature by Queen’s in 2013 for services to History and Divinity, he was elected an Honorary Member of the Royal Irish Academy earlier this year. He is currently researching religion’s many interfaces with global modernities in preparation for the Gifford Lectures which he will deliver in Edinburgh in spring 2021.

James McCosh

Rev Dr James McCosh LLD (pictured above, bottom left) travelled from Ireland to the USA in 1868 to become the 11th President of the College of New Jersey, which was renamed Princeton University in 1896. Already well-known throughout the English-speaking world as an author, philosopher, and Free Churchman, the new President’s influence was compared to “an electric shock, instantaneous, paralyzing to the opposition, and stimulating to all that were not paralyzed.”

During 20 years as its President, his sphere of influence was extensive, not only as a leading moral philosopher and educationalist, but as a pioneer of modern psychology and as a prominent advocate for the reconciliation of evolution and religion.

Gathering a distinguished faculty, Dr McCosh revised and modernised the plan of study; developed elective course options; and instituted graduate work. He founded schools of science, philosophy, and art, and he began an ambitious programme of building and planting that greatly enhanced the formerly bare campus.

Distinguished past lecturers

Reflecting James McCosh’s wide interests, the Lecture is delivered annually at Queen’s in the field of Religious Studies broadly conceived. Previous lecturers have included:

  • Baroness Onora O’Neill (2019), FBA, FRS, FMedSci, philosopher and former President of the British Academy;
  • Sir Diarmaid MacCulloch (2018), religious historian and Vice-President of the British Academy;
  • Mona Siddiqui (2015), Professor of Islamic and Interreligious Studies (University of Edinburgh);
  • Literary theorist Terry Eagleton (Universities of Lancaster, Galway and Notre Dame) (2014);
  • Climate scientist Mike Hulme (Tyndall Centre for Climate Change, University of East Anglia) (2013)
  • Philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff (Yale University) (2011)

This year's Lecture is organised in partnership with the British Academy and Harvard Divinty School. 

Free to view (with no booking required), the 2020 McCosh Lecture will be available on the Queen’s University Belfast website at 5pm on Friday 18 September.

For general enquiries about this story, or to submit a graduate news item, please contact Gerry Power, Communications Officer, Development and Alumni Relations Office, Queen’s University Belfast. 

Image credit (1): James McCosh, ca. 1870s. Box AD013, Historical Photograph Collection, Individuals Series, Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library, Princeton University; published by Princeton University Archives.

Image credit (2): Dean David N. Hempton. / Photo: Stephanie Mitchell, Harvard Staff Photographer

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