08 April 2010

Reflections on Professor Sir Alister Hardy, founder of the Religious Experiences Research Centre

If you are motivated to believe that innate ability does not exist and all ability is the result of social interaction, then it is important to keep people who have been obviously precocious deprived of opportunity.

When Professor Sir Alister Hardy gave a paid research job to someone with a PhD in law so that he could make something of the boxes of case reports (of religious experiences) which had been received in response to an appeal superficially resembling those which I had previously made, he did not even attempt to contribute suggestions about how they were to be analysed. This was in the early Seventies, a few years after he had founded the Religious Experiences Research Unit (as the Religious Experiences Research Centre was then called) based at Manchester College, Oxford.

The person he employed as paid Research Assistant - without offering the job to either me or Dr Charles McCreery, who had extensive knowledge of all relevant areas as well as previous experience of analysing our own appeals, although not while holding an academic appointment - was a PhD in law, with no relevant knowledge or experience. But no doubt Hardy and his advisors, who included Rosalind Heywood and Dame Janet Vaughan of Somerville, thought no one could criticise him for appointing someone with a PhD instead of me, who had only a BLitt. All that counts is academic status. His qualification was in nothing relevant, and mine was as relevant as possible, although the work I had done in getting it had provided only a small part of the information which I had acquired in areas which were actually relevant.

Although Dr McCreery did not have a research degree at that time, he also was really much better qualified than the PhD in law, since he had a degree in Experimental Psychology (supposedly relevant, although really not much, though certainly more relevant than law) as well as the extra information which he had acquired in working with me on the research I was able to do while partially funded by the King money, including the appeals for cases.

The PhD in law who was hired was just waved at the boxes of cases and left alone to do whatever he could think of. He conceived the idea of running the cases through a computer to analyse the frequency with which certain words occurred, but I never heard that he had any idea which words might be more relevant than any others.

But the object of the exercise was to keep me destitute and inactive, and it succeeded in that.