Department of Theology and Religious Studies

Firth Lectures

High profile public lectures exploring aspects of Christian faith in relation to contemporary problems.

2021 lectures

08-09 April 2021
Prof. Celia Deane-Drummond (Oxford)

Humans and Animals: Boundary Questions and Why They are Significant for Theology and Ethics

Prof. Celia Deane-Drummond

Prof. Celia Deane-Drummond is currently Senior Research Fellow and Director of Laudato Si' Research Institute at Campion Hall, University of Oxford. 

Her first academic position in theology was at Chester University in 1994 where she subsequently founded and was director of the Centre for Religion and the Biosciences. From 2011-2018 she was Chair of the European Forum for the Study of Religion and the Environment (EFSRE) which she helped found in 2006. In 2011 she joined the Faculty of Theology at the University of Notre Dame as full Professor in Theology and in 2015 became inaugural director of the Center for Theology, Science and Human Flourishing. She became Visiting Professor in Theology and Science at Durham University in 2012. Her research specialism includes work at the interface of theology and ethics with the biological and social sciences, including more recently projects with evolutionary anthropologists. 



Theology and the Evolution of Violence: Are we Wired for War or Peace?

Live Q&A: Thursday 8th April 6pm-6.30pm

This public lecture considers the empirical and theological aspects of the long- standing debate between Thomas Hobbes and Jean Jacques Rousseau on the basic state of nature at the dawn of human origins: was it towards collective violence or peace? Work with primates highlights both violence and reconciliation tendencies among chimpanzees and bonobos. More organised violence in the form of warfare is only characteristic of human societies capable of symbolic representation. Prof. Deane-Drummond argues that any linear progression from hunting game to warfare is unlikely, and the role of religious belief is also equally complex. Theologians influenced by Augustine’s theory of just war and evolutionary anthropologists agree that perception of injustice triggers inter-group and intra-group violence. Anthropologists are normally hesitant about coming to any negative judgment about oppressors, but theologians have different tools that can be at the service of understanding the complex factors that lead to peace. 


Humans are Animals but Are Animals Persons? Implications for Theological Ethics. 

Live Q&A: Friday 9th April 6pm-6.30pm

In this lecture Prof. Deane-Drummond tackles the difficult philosophical question of the place of animals in the moral sphere. Although often forgotten, reminding ourselves that we are animals is relatively uncontroversial compared with the idea of extending personhood to other animals. She argues that if personhood is extended it should not be confused with divine image bearing. While some theologians have become nervous about using any language about divine image bearing on the basis it could lead to an unhelpful sense of human superiority, she considers that such nervousness undercuts the distinctive contribution that Christian theology can make to the discussion. Divine image bearing is, like wisdom, a complex term that has its own chequered history of interpretation. But image bearing is also a reminder that human persons bear a special moral responsibility in a multi-species community in a way that personhood alone does not. Enlarging a notion of personhood may broaden the moral sphere, but it does not tell us how to act.


Previous lectures

Firth Lectures 2016: The Most Reverend Rowan Williams - 'Imagining Faith: perceptions of religious belief in modern writing'

Former Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams gave the Firth Lectures 2016. In these lectures he considers three pieces of contemporary fiction to explore how they describe the religious person and how there is a portrayal of holiness within these stories.

Rowan Williams was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury on 23 July 2002, and confirmed as the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury on 2 December 2002 in St Paul's Cathedral, London. He stepped down, moving to his new role as Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge at the end of 2012.

Dr Williams is internationally renowned as a theological writer, teacher, and scholar. He has written across numerous topics that include theology, philosophy, morals and ethics, spirituality, and cultural and interfaith issues.

Imagining Faith: perceptions of religious belief in modern writing - part 1

Imagining Faith: perceptions of religious belief in modern writing - part 2


Firth Lectures 2014: Professor Charles Taylor - 'Philosophical and Theological Anthropology in the 21st Century'

Professor Charles Taylor, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at McGill University in Canada and formerly Chichele Professor of Social and Political Theory at Oxford and a Fellow of All Souls College gave the Firth Lectures 2014. His lectures attempted to assess where the philosophical and theological view of human beings stand today in relation to western secular civilisation.

Charles Taylor was awarded the Templeton Prize in 2007. This Prize, established in 1972, was the world’s largest annual award given to an individual at that time and is intended to recognise exemplary achievement in work related to life's spiritual dimension. This distinction was followed in November 2008 by becoming the first Canadian to win Japan's Kyoto Prize for arts and philosophy.

Prof Taylor is also a member of the Order of Canada and a foreign honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was made honorary Doctor of Letters in the University of Oxford in 2012.

Philosophical and Theological Anthropology - part 1

Philosophical and Theological Anthropology - part 2




Firth Lectures 2012: Professor Terry Eagleton - 'Culture and the Death of God'

Professor Eagleton, Distinguished Professor of English Literature at Lancaster University gave the Firth Memorial Lectures 2012, as a guest of the Department of Theology and Religious Studies. The lectures explored the interaction between critical theory and religion in modern society, subjects on which Professor Eagleton has written and lectured extensively over the past 40 years.

According to The Independent, Professor Eagleton is ‘the man who succeeded F.R. Leavis as Britain’s most influential academic critic’. He has written around 50 books and was previously Professor of English Literature at the Universities of Manchester and Oxford.

His books include Literary Theory (1983) which remains to this day an academic best-seller, The Ideology of the Aesthetic (1990), The Illusions of Postmodernism (1996), a best-selling memoir, The Gatekeeper (2001) and more recent works such as Holy Terror (2005) and Trouble with Strangers (2008).

He has been a leading figure in literary studies since the 1970s and is a Fellow of both the British Academy and the English Association. He has held visiting appointments at such universities as Cornell, Duke, Iowa, Melbourne, Notre Dame, Trinity College Dublin, and Yale.

Culture and the Death of God - Part 1

Firth Lectures 2012: Culture and the Death of God Part 1


Culture and the Death of God - Part 2

Firth Lectures 2012: Culture and the Death of God Part 2



About the Firth Lectures

The Firth Memorial Lectureship was founded by the Reverend John d’ewe Evelyn Firth in memory of his father, John Benjamin Firth, Historian of Nottingham and his mother Helena Gertrude Firth. The lecturer is appointed biennially by the Council of the University on the recommendation of the Senate of the University, and under the terms of the Trust the lecturer delivers a public lecture or lectures on some aspect of the Christian Faith in relation to contemporary problems.

The first person to hold the Lectureship was the renowned theologian Paul Tillich and there has been a series of eminent theologians and philosophers who have included among others Baroness Warnock and Professor Jϋrgen Moltmann.

Rev John d'ewe Evelyn Firth
Reverend John d’ewe Evelyn Firth



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