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Alister Hardy: Wikis


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Sir Alister Clavering Hardy, FRS (10 February 1896 – 22 May 1985) was an Oxford-educated marine biologist, expert on zooplankton and marine ecosystems. He founded the Religious Experience Research Centre in 1969, after retiring as a professor at Oxford.


Biology and zoology

Hardy was the zoologist on the RRS Discovery voyage to explore the Antarctic between 1925 and 1927, as part of the Discovery Investigations. Through his studies of zooplankton and its relationship with predators, he became expert in marine mammals such as whales. Whilst on board the Discovery he designed and later built a mechanism called the Continuous Plankton Recorder or CPR. The CPR collects plankton samples and stores them on a moving band of silk, preserving them in formalin. His pioneering research into plankton distribution and abundance is continued by the Sir Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science (SAHFOS).

Hardy was the first Professor of Zoology at the University of Hull from 1928 - 1942. In 1942, he was then appointed Professor of Natural History at the University of Aberdeen, where he remained until 1946, when he became Linacre Professor of Zoology in Oxford, a position he held until 1961. In 1940, Hardy was made a Fellow of the Royal Society. He was knighted in 1957.

In 1930, while reading Wood Jones' Man's Place among the Mammals, which included the question of why humans, unlike all other land mammals, had fat attached to their skin, Hardy realized that this trait sounded like the blubber of marine mammals, and apparently began to suspect that humans had ancestors more aquatic than previously imagined. Fearing the backlash of such a radically different idea, he kept this hypothesis secret until 1960, when he spoke, and later wrote, on the subject, which became known as the Aquatic Ape Hypothesis, in academic circles.

Study of religion

Dating from his boyhood at Oundle School, Hardy had a lifelong interest in spiritual phenomena, but aware that his interests were likely to be considered unorthodox in the scientific community, apart from occasional lectures he kept his opinions to himself until his retirement from his Oxford Chair. During the academic sessions of 1963-4 and 1964-5, he gave the Gifford Lectures at Aberdeen University on the evolution of religion, later published as The Living Stream and The Divine Flame. These lectures signalled his wholehearted return to his religious interests. In 1969 he founded the Religious Experience Research Unit in Manchester College, Oxford. The Unit began its work by compiling a database of religious experiences and continues to investigate the nature and function of spiritual and religious experience at the University of Wales, Lampeter.

Hardy's biological approach to the roots of religion is currently shared by a number of other researchers (cf. Scott Atran, Pascal Boyer) but unlike them Hardy did not wish to be reductionist, seeing religious awareness as having evolved in response to a genuine dimension of reality. For his work in founding the Religious Experience Research Centre, Hardy received the Templeton Prize shortly before his death in 1985.[1]


  1. ^ Hardy's contribution to the scientific study of religion is reviewed in David Hay's book Something There: The Biology of the Human Spirit published in London in July 2006 by Darton, Longman & Todd and in the United States by Templeton Press in 2007.

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