John Franklin remembers the biographer of Sir Alister Hardy, a distinguished and warm-hearted scholar ...

News of the death of Dr. David Hay came as a great shock, although he had been very ill for some time. He was Director of the Alister Hardy Religious Experience Research Centre at Oxford when I first met and started to work with him in 1986: he was my mentor and a valued colleague and friend. Besides being a distinguished scholar, he was a warm-hearted, kind and empathetic man who was greatly respected and loved by all who knew him.

David, a zoologist by profession, studied zoology as an undergraduate at the University of Aberdeen and went on to become a lecturer in Biology in the Department of Education at Nottingham University. Towards the latter part of his career, he was appointed Reader in Spiritual Education at Nottingham University and Visiting Professor in the Institute for the Study of Religion at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland. He held an Honorary Senior Research Fellowship in Aberdeen University, and also an Honorary Research Fellowship in the University of Wales Trinity Saint David at Lampeter.

It was whilst still an undergraduate at the University of Aberdeen that he met Sir Alister Hardy FRS, who was Professor of Zoology and Head of Department in Oxford University between 1946 and 1961.  Later, when a lecturer in Biology at Nottingham University, he worked with Sir Alister as a researcher. Hardy, on retiring from his last post of Chair of Zoology at Oxford University, had established, in 1969, the Religious Experience Research Unit at Manchester College, Oxford to study contemporary religious and spiritual experience. David shared Hardy’s interests and conviction that spiritual awareness had evolved through the process of natural selection, underlay all genuine religion, and was of survival value and necessary for the human wellbeing. Much of David’s academic career was spent exploring and establishing through survey and analysis the facts that spiritual experience was common and associated with good health. He went on to become Director of the Alister Hardy Religious Experience Research Centre, as it was renamed in honour of Sir Alister, a post he held from 1985 to 1989 and, later, was Chair of the Centre’s Advisory Research Council (1990 to 1994). During this time he saw to the expansion of the Centre’s archive of accounts of spiritual and religious experiences, which now number over 6,000. David’s interest in the work of the AHRERC continued throughout his life and he was an early member, and later Honorary Life member, of the Alister Hardy Society for the Study of Spiritual Experience, which supports the work of today’s AHRERCs now situated at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David, Lampeter and, just recently, at Glyndwr University, Wrexham. 

David’s interest in contemporary spiritual and religious experience led him to publish numerous scientific articles and seven books on the subject, the latter including Exploring Inner Space: Scientists and Religious Experience (1987, Oxford Mowbury); Religious Experience Today: Studying the Facts (1990); The Spirit of the Child (with Rebecca Nye) (2006), and Something There: the Biology of the Human Spirit (2006, 2007, Darton, Longman and Todd). His last book was a definitive biography of Sir Alister Hardy, God’s Biologist: A Life of Alister Hardy (2011, Darton, Longman and Todd).

Sadly, David suffered in his last years for Parkinson’s disease and, after a final long illness, he died peacefully on 27th October 2014 with his wife, Jane, by his side.  His funeral is to take place at 1.00 pm on 28th November 2014 in St. Barnabas R.C. Cathedral, Nottingham; the deepest condolences go out to his wife and family – he will be greatly many people.

John Franklin, Hon. Secretary, Alister Hardy Society for the Study of Spiritual Experience, 14th November 2014.