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Julian Perlmutter


- PhD, Trinity Hall, Cambridge, 2013-present (AHRC Doctoral Studentship)

- MPhil Philosophy of Religion, Trinity Hall, Cambridge, 2012-13 (AHRC Research Preparation Masters Studentship) (Thesis: "Trust and Religious Commitment: An Investigation into Epistemic Dimensions of Religious Practice with Special Reference to the Works of Nicholas Wolterstorff")

- BA Philosophy, University of Leeds, 2008-11 (First Class; Mangoletsi Prize)

I ran the FD Maurice Society at Trinity Hall, a series of talks in the philosophy of religion by students and academics. I also sing in the college's chapel choir.

Subject area and speciality

Philosophy of Religion specialists:

Beyond Belief? An Epistemology of Musical Engagement and Religious Desire

Research Interests

Religious music

Religious desire

Non-doxastic religious engagement

Religious epistemology


My thesis considers the epistemology of religious desire as experienced through sacred choral music in the Western classical tradition. In light of considerations in the philosophies of emotion and music, I look at several examples of sacred music from different periods - both in their own right and in the context of the Church of England’s liturgy. I explore how, in each case, the music and text together can elicit religious desire of a certain form or cluster of forms, centred on God as conceived along certain Judaeo-Christian lines. Having developed an epistemology of desire in general, I apply this to my musical examples. In this way, I illustrate how desiring, yearning, longing for God can itself contribute to religious knowledge and understanding that is more intimate and vivid than mere propositional knowledge, and, importantly, is available even in the absence of the desire's satisfaction and without the subject’s believing in God’s existence. The knowledge and understanding with which I am concerned are, firstly, knowledge of certain aspects or attributes of God as he is characterised in the pieces and liturgy I consider; and, secondly, the self-understanding that constitutes an inner grasp of a key aspect of the theistic outlook - namely, that humans have a deep need for God if they are to be ultimately fulfilled. This knowledge and understanding can help one to cultivate the sort of relationship with God that is envisaged in the music and liturgy I consider; and I end by examining the contemplative vision of the Christian life to be found in the writings of Thomas Merton and Rowan Williams, arguing that the nascent love and knowledge of God engendered by the musical engagement I describe can be grown through contemplative prayer as these authors present it. 

Thus, the thesis as a whole argues for one way in which propositional religious belief is not necessary for some amount of growth in the religious life. If there is any truth to the Christian outlook that is referenced in the musical pieces and liturgy I consider, then there is much that those on the edges of faith can gain by responding to sacred music with religious desire.

Other Professional Activities

Papers and Presentations

“Sacred Music, Religious Emotion, and Knowledge about God”, 2015 annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion, Atlanta, Georgia (November 2015)

“Desiring the Hidden God: Knowledge Without Belief”, 11th biennial conference of the British Society for the Philosophy of Religion, Oriel College, Oxford (September 2015)

“Divine and Human Goodness: Analogical Meanings, Meta-Ethical Core”, 'Religious Studies at 50' conference, University of Leeds (June 2014)

Professional Societies

British Society for the Philosophy of Religion

American Academy of Religion


Key Publications

“Drawing from the Well of Silence”, Noesis Vol. 2 (Easter 2015), 73-77

“Religious Yearning as Religious Knowing: Affective Engagement with Purcell’s Hear My Prayer, O Lord”, Noesis Vol. 1 (Easter 2014), 22-30

“Pascal’s Wager and the Cost of Error”, Journal of Leeds University Philosophical Society Vol. 2, Issue 1 (Summer 2012), 35-45

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