Obituary: The Rev Professor Anthony Dyson

ANTHONY DYSON, Professor of Social and Pastoral Theology at Manchester University until January this year, was one of the most brilliant Anglican theologians of his generation. He represented a liberal tradition which regarded contemporary social movements and intellectual trends as essential aids in the Christian search for understanding.

His career was characterised by the conviction that academic theology and the churches alike could expect no credibility in the modern world without seriously engaging with other insights into the human condition, notably history, literature and, latterly, the new biotechnologies. With exceptional vision, he recognised the profundity of the social and cultural changes that had occurred in Britain since 1945, and the seriousness of their impact on patterns of religious belief and practice. He anticipated many of the issues now held to be at the cutting edge of Christian social thought, and was frequently ahead of his time in pioneering innovative patterns of clergy training, theological education and interdisciplinary research.

Dyson was born in Ashton-under-Lyne and attended William Hulme Grammar School, Manchester, before reading Modern Languages and Theology at Emmanuel College, Cambridge. He trained for ordination in the Church of England at Ripon Hall, Oxford, between 1959 and 1961 and served a short curacy in Putney from 1961 to 1963. He then returned to Ripon Hall in 1963, first as Chaplain and then as Principal.

It was clear that a distinguished career as an academic theologian awaited him, as he rapidly gained a reputation as a talented and progressive scholar with a concern to render Christianity intelligible to the modern world. His doctoral work on Ernst Troeltsch and his early books Who is Jesus Christ? (1969) and The Immortality of the Past (1974) established him in a purely academic context; but as a reforming Principal at Ripon, he set about modernising patterns of training for ordinands and introduced new ideas - including greater attention to the specific demands of urban ministry - and a greater rigour into the world of the theological college.

As the Church of England began to experience the effects of numerical decline, however, it became clear that the provision of theological training would have to be rationalised. Dyson negotiated a merger between Ripon and Cuddesdon College, Oxford, in 1974, effectively doing himself out of a job. He moved to St George's House, Windsor, to become Canon Theologian.

The intellectual environment suited him well. St George's specialised in residential courses for up-and-coming clergy and interdisciplinary symposia at which leading scholars, practitioners and policy makers exchanged ideas across a wide range of social, political and ethical topics. This aspect of the job enabled him to foster the very engagement between Church and society that he had always advocated. However, he became increasingly dissatisfied with what he regarded as the stultifying ecclesiastical conventions, and decided to make a move, accepting a lectureship in 1977 in modern theology at the University of Kent at Canterbury.

Three years later Dyson succeeded Ronald Preston to the Samuel Ferguson Chair of Social and Pastoral Theology at Manchester, a position which seemed tailor-made. His predecessor had established the Chair as one of the leading appointments in Christian social ethics, and the secular constitution of the Faculty of Theology kept it free of confessional or ecclesial restrictions.

Dyson's own teaching and research interests began to move further into emerging areas of bioethics; he was a member of the Warnock Committee of Human Fertilisation and Embryology, where his characteristic courtesy, attention to detail and intellectual intregity were much valued. He continued his commitment to interdisciplinary collaboration by helping to establish the Centre for Social Ethics and Policy at Manchester, which incorporated colleagues from law, philosophy and medicine as well as theology. With John Harris, a co-director of CSEP, he wrote and edited several works in bioethics, including Biotechnology and Ethics (1994).

As well as his personal writing and teaching, Dyson continued to exercise a decisive leadership in the field of pastoral studies and practical theology, helping to transform it from a field dominated by clerically dominated "hints and helps" into a respectable and rigorous academic discipline. As editor of the journal The Modern Churchman (now Modern Believing) from 1982 to 1993, he expanded its constituency from its traditional roots in liberal Anglicanism to become an organ of the latest academic work in social ethics, politics and religion and contemporary theology.

As a young man, he had been greatly moved by reading Vera Brittain's Testament of Youth, which inspired a lifetime's sympathy to the values of feminism. Characteristically, he was an early leading protagonist in the campaign for the ordination of women to the priesthood in the Church of England, and a formidable debater and writer with opponents. At Manchester, a combination of student demand and his own interests led to the creation of Britain's first undergraduate course in feminist theology in the mid- 1980s.

By the early 1980s the debilitating effects of Parkinson's disease were beginning to be apparent. Inevitably, his own research output was diminished by his condition, and his latter years at Manchester were perhaps characterised more by his continuing personal influence as teacher, supervisor and mentor than by the intellectual intensity of earlier periods. Despite his condition, however, he continued to maintain a prodigious work-rate, and published a further general introduction to bioethics, The Ethics of IVF, in 1995.

Tony Dyson always gave the highest priority to his contact with students, generations of whom grew to appreciate his characteristic combination of gentleness of spirit and sharpness of intellect.

Elaine Graham

Anthony Oakley Dyson, theologian: born Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire 6 October 1935; ordain-ed deacon 1961, priest 1962; Chaplain of Ripon Hall, Oxford 1963-69, Principal 1969-74; Canon Theologian, St George's House, Windsor 1974-77, Custodian 1975-77; Lecturer in Theology, University of Kent at Canterbury 1977-80; Sam-uel Ferguson Professor of Social and Pastoral Theology, Manchester University 1980-98, Academic Director, Centre for Social Ethics and Policy 1987-98; married 1960 Edwina Hammett (two sons); died Manchester 19 September 1998.

Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test