Oral history of British science

Cupitt, Don (1 of 5). Science and Religion: Exploring the Spectrum. Life Story Interviews

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  • Subjects

    Science and Religion; Philosophy

  • Recording date

    2016-05-21, 2016-06-07, 2016-06-23

  • Recording locations

    Interviewee's rooms in Emmanuel College, Cambridge

  • Interviewees

    Cupitt, Don, 1934- (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Merchant, Paul (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Part 1: [1:22:39] [Session one: 21st May 2016] Don Cupitt born 22nd May 1934 in Oldham, Lancashire. Comments on life of father, including characters of paternal grandparents, father's lack of clear religious belief, appearance, career as engineer and manager, success during World War Two [WW2] (with related story). [4:09] Comments on memories of grandparents. [5:22] Comments on life of mother, including limited education, work for Singer sewing machine company, marriage aged 19, difficulty coping as widow in old age (with related story of unsuccessful holiday looking at churches with self), blindness (due to macular degeneration) in final years. Comments on private school education of self and three siblings (self and brother at Charterhouse). Mentions careers of sisters as doctors; own early adulthood ambition to train as a doctor. [8:53] Comments on childhoods of parents; time spent as a child with father, with stories; father's concern to be remembered after his death. [13:26] Comments on time spent as a child with mother, through related story; tendency for reserve/emotional control between parents and self/siblings. [16:54] Further discussion of relations as a child with mother. Further comments on parents' funding of private education for self and siblings. [18:36] Comments on mother's limited religious belief. Mentions inability of parents to access/discuss own work in theology. Comments on mother's "North country" outlook/sayings, with example; her emotional reserve. [21:23] Comments on "voracious" childhood reading, with related stories; hobbies including collecting butterflies, train numbers; interest in Victorian engineering. [25:18] Story of experience of staying on farm in West Yorkshire, inspiring longstanding regard for particular upland landscape. Comments on experience of natural landscape around Charterhouse; opportunities for collection of butterflies, with use of EB Ford's book 'Butterflies'. [28:17] Comments on beginnings of religious belief/interest as a child aged 15 at Charterhouse, through housemasters preparations for own 'confirmation' (in Anglican "tradition" of public school), including own keenness for religious practice at this time (as twice weekly communicant); effect of education in philosophy (mentions Plato) and zoology (mentions Darwin) in reducing religious practice and stimulating religious thought. Mentions experience of being "converted back", aged 18 at University of Cambridge [UOC]. Discussion of/further comments on conversion to Christianity through confirmation at school, including view of own susceptibility to "religious experience" associated with the sense of sight; appreciation of art (mentions van Gogh, Bridget Riley) and visual description in poetry (mentions Wordsworth, Traherne, Vaughan, Manley Hopkins). Mentions influence of school art teacher; collection of art books. [33:55] Comments on childhood visual experiences, including observation of insects, "busy small creatures". Story of failing - as an adult - to interest group of children in Lake District landscape. [36:25] Comments on view of self as a child, including variable performance at school (often very high); reasons for not publishing book in philosophy of religion until age of 36. Mentions "acute religious doubts" experienced at theological college, in own twenties. [40:06] Story of first school. Comments on subsequent primary schools, including Gunnersbury Preparatory School, London; particular book on Shakespeare given to self by teacher here. Detailed comments on/discussion of sexual abuse of boys here by headmaster. [51:00] Comments on experience of Charterhouse, including own 'foundation scholarship', fees, first impressions, football, teachers (mentions depiction of these 'beaks' in novel 'Shadows on the Grass'), liking for its (to self) unfamiliar class setting. [53:31] Comments on view of self in relation to other pupils; service as 'school monitor' and 'head of house' (mentions success in officer training later, during National Service). [54:51] Comments on subjects studied at Charterhouse as O and A Levels, with gradual preference for biological sciences; masters (including botany master) most influential on self; award of 'exhibition' to Trinity Hall [TH] College, Cambridge; regret at not having intervened in cases of bullying. [58:55] Further comments on teaching of science at Charterhouse. Comments on Charterhouse's approach of "unity of all knowledge under Christian Platonism"; teaching of biological evolution, involving Julian Huxley's "revised and updated version of Darwinism". [1:02:58] Comments on lack of memory of discussion of relations between science and religion at Charterhouse; view of late 1940s and 1950s as period in which enthusiasm for the rebuilding of 'Christian Europe' was significant; dominance of liberal Anglicanism at Charterhouse with tendency for assumed coherence of "culture, religion and science"; own lack of belief in miracles at any stage of life. [1:06:21] Comments on fieldwork in science teaching at Charterhouse, including story of experiences at coastal field station in Ireland. [1:09:07] Comments on "fading" of religious belief in late teens. Story of first performance of new school anthem, composed by Ralph Vaughan Williams. Comments on dislike of blending of military and Christianity in War Memorial Chapel at Charterhouse; extent/nature of own prayer at Charterhouse and after; memory of pupil Richard Swinburne at Charterhouse; view of Roman Catholicism and Greek Orthodox Christianity as long dead intellectually ("fossil religions"); preference for liberal Anglicanism and Society of Friends as least "intellectually backward". [1:17:13] Comments on time spent when not studying at Charterhouse; experience of reading Plato's 'Republic' here; view of disappearance of philosophy (mentions view of greatness of Immanuel Kant's 'Critique of Pure Reason') from literary culture in UK, so that 'literature' is limited to fiction, drama, poetry.

  • Description

    Life story interview with philosopher Don Cupitt.

  • Related transcripts

    Don Cupitt interviewed by Paul Merchant: full transcript of the interview

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