The Revd Don Cupitt

Photo of The Revd Don Cupitt

MA, Hon DLitt (Brist)

Life Fellow

Don Cupitt was born in 1934 in Lancashire, England, and educated at Charterhouse, Trinity Hall Cambridge and Westcott House Cambridge. He studied, successively, Natural Sciences, Theology and the Philosophy of Religion. In 1959 he was ordained deacon in the Church of England, becoming a priest in 1960. In the early 1990s he stopped officiating at public worship, but he remains technically a priest in good standing. He writes mainly for ‘liberals’ in the churches, saying to them: ‘Other writers try to formulate a position that you might be able to get away with: I show you what you really think.’

After short periods as a curate in the North of England, and as Vice-Principal of Westcott House, Cupitt was elected to a fellowship and appointed Dean at Emmanuel College late in 1965. Since then he has remained at the College. In 1968 he was appointed to a University teaching post in the Philosophy of Religion, a job in which he continued until his retirement for health reasons in 1996. At that time he proceeded to a Life Fellowship at Emmanuel College, which remains his base today. He is married, with three children who all now live and work in London, and two grandchildren.

Don Cupitt’s books began to appear in the 1970s, without attracting much public attention. He first provoked hostile notice by his participation in the symposium The Myth of God Incarnate (1977), and then became nationally known for his media work — especially the three BBC Television projects Open to Question (1973), Who was Jesus? (1977), and The Sea of Faith (1984).

Cupitt’s notoriety peaked in the these years of the early 1980s, his most important book of that period being Taking Leave of God (1980), which shut down his career and made him in the eyes of the Press an atheist and perhaps ‘the most radical theologian in the world’. He survived, partly because the then Archbishop of Canterbury and the then Master of Emmanuel defended his right to put forward his ideas. Since that time he has devoted all his energies to developing his ideas in a long line of books. He travels regularly, lecturing for the Sea of Faith Networks in Britain, Australia and New Zealand, for the Westar Institute of Santa Rosa, CA in the USA, and for the Snowstar Institute of Southern Ontario, Canada. He is invited to visit universities in many countries, including recently those of Aarhus, Leuven, Beijing, Oxford and Yale.

In his writing, and in the various societies he has tried to foster, Don Cupitt attempts to develop new thinking for a new epoch: a new philosophy, a new ethics, and a new religious thought. His thinking develops continuously and is not easy to summarize, but the best introduction to it has been given by the Australian Nigel Leaves in his recent two-volume study. The Sea of Faith TV series can sometimes be borrowed on DVD, and the book is still in print. It is reasonably accessible to beginners in philosophy and theology. Readers with more time and energy should simply read Cupitt’s books in the order in which they were written — perhaps beginning with After All (1994).