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Professor Sarah Coakley

Professor Sarah Coakley

Norris-Hulse Professor of Divinity

Fellow, Murray Edwards College

Office Phone: 01223 763020


As Norris-Hulse Professor of Divinity, Sarah Coakley holds the established chair at Cambridge in philosophy of religion. She has previously held positions at the Universities of Lancaster, Oxford, and Harvard, and a visiting professorship at Princeton. She has been awarded honorary degrees by the University of Lund, the University of St Andrew's, General Theological Seminary, New York, and the University of Toronto (St Michael's College). In 2012 she delivered the Gifford Lectures in Aberdeen on the topic ‘Sacrifice Regained: Evolution, Cooperation and God’. In 2012 she was also elected a member of the European Academy of Sciences and Arts, and from 2013-2015 she was the President of the British Society for Philosophy of Religion.

From January 2011 until September 2014 Professor Coakley served as Deputy Chair of Arts and Humanities in the University.

From October 2014 Professor Coakley has a three-year Major Research Fellowship from the Leverhulme Foundation which she will use to complete various research and publication projects. In the same period she will continue to act as PI in her Templeton World Charity Foundation grant on 'Theology, Philosophy of Religion, and the Natural Sciences'.  During this time Professor Coakley’s undergraduate and MPhil teaching is being covered by Dr Jacob Sherman.

Professor Coakley has also over the last five years chaired annual symposia funded by the McDonald Agape Foundation on major topics in theological ethics, with the papers published in Studies in Christian Ethics: 'The Future of Theological Ethics', 25/2 (2012); 'Evolution, Cooperation and Ethics', 26/2 (2013); 'The Ethics of State Punishment', 27/3 (2014); 'New Conversations in Islamic and Christian Political Thought' (forthcoming in 2016); and 'Towards a Contemporary Art of Dying' (forthcoming in 2016). Previous interdisciplinary research projects have included ‘Evolution and the Theology of Cooperation’ (with Martin A. Nowak, funded by The John Templeton Foundation) and ‘Pain and its Transformations’ (with Arthur Kleinman, funded by the Harvard Mind / Brain / Behavior Interfaculty Initiative).

Professor Coakley contributed to Analytic Theology (eds. Oliver Crisp and Michael Rea, OUP, 2009), and with her doctoral and postdoctoral students has continued to participate in international colloquia related to it. In 2009 she also instituted an annual day conference in philosophy of religion bringing together graduate students from Cambridge, Oxford, Nottingham and London. Students of philosophy of religion at Cambridge are encouraged to interact with members of the Philosophy Faculty and other cognate Faculties, and enjoy connections with several European and North American universities with which there are exchange arrangements.

Subject area and speciality

Christian Theology specialists:
  • The future of 'systematic theology'
  • The patristic, scholastic, and contemporary doctrine of the Trinity 
  • Pneumatology and the filioque problem 
  • Chalcedonian and post-Chalcedonian christology and the problem of the communicatio idiomatum
Philosophy of Religion specialists:
  • The origins and relations of analytic and continental philosophy of religion
  • 'Analytic theology'
  • The contemporary status of arguments for God's existence
  • The 'hiddenness' of God and 'apophatic' claims about God
  • The epistemology of 'religious experience'

Research Interests

  • religious epistemology, especially in the patristic tradition of the ‘spiritual senses’
  • rationality, the passions and religious truth claims
  • gender theory and philosophy of religion
  • the relation of apophatic and cataphatic claims in philosophical theology
  • the future of ‘natural theology’: revisiting teleological and design arguments
  • evolutionary theory, game theory and Christian philosophical theology
  • systematic theology and its relation to philosophy of religion

Research Supervision

During the period of her Leverhulme Research Fellowship Professor Coakley’s intake of new doctoral students will necessarily be limited. Nonetheless she continues to welcome general enquiries about the study of Philosophy of Religion and Theological Ethics at graduate level in the faculty, especially for projects bridging the divide between philosophy and theology. She herself works in both the analytic and continental strands of philosophy of religion, and this inclusiveness is characteristic of the teaching of Philosophy of Religion at Cambridge.

Key Publications

The first volume of Professor Coakley’s four-volume Systematic Theology, God, Sexuality and the Self: An Essay ‘On the Trinity’ (Cambridge, CUP) appeared in 2013. (There is an extended discussion of it in the October 2014 issue of Modern Theology). The second volume is now in progress and was given as the Warfield Lectures at Princeton Theological Seminary in March 2015. Her 2012 Gifford Lectures are due to be published in book form (Oxford, OUP and Grand Rapids, Eerdmans) in 2017.

A full list of Professor Coakley's publications is available in a separate document.