Catherine Pickstock

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Catherine Pickstock
Catherine Pickstock 2020.jpg
Pickstock in 2020
Catherine Jane Crozier Pickstock

1970 (age 50–51)
Thomas Harrison
(m. 2002)
Academic background
Alma materSt Catharine's College, Cambridge
ThesisThe Sacred Polis (1996)
Doctoral advisorJohn Milbank
Academic work
  • Theology
  • philosophy
School or tradition
InstitutionsEmmanuel College, Cambridge
Doctoral students
Main interests
Notable works
  • After Writing (1997)
  • Radical Orthodoxy (1999)

Catherine Jane Crozier Pickstock (born 1970) is an English philosophical theologian. Best known for her contributions to the radical orthodoxy movement, she has been Norris-Hulse Professor of Divinity at the University of Cambridge since 2018 and a fellow and tutor of Emmanuel College, Cambridge. She was previously Professor of Metaphysics and Poetics.[7][8]

Early life and education[edit]

Pickstock was born in 1970 in New York City, United States, but grew up in England.[1] Though not raised in the Church of England, she credits her grandparents with introducing her both to Anglican liturgy[9] and to the ethical-political concerns of the Anglican tradition.[10] She was educated at Channing School, an all-girls independent school in Highgate, London, England.[1] Having won a choral scholarship, she studied English literature at St Catharine's College, Cambridge, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree in 1991.[1][11][12] Interested in the relationship between poetics and metaphysics, she then moved into philosophical theology and undertook postgraduate studies in this field at the Faculty of Divinity, University of Cambridge.[11][13] She completed her Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree in 1996 with a thesis titled The Sacred Polis: Language, Death and Liturgy.[13] Her doctoral supervisor was John Milbank.[14]

Academic career[edit]

From 1995 to 1998, Pickstock was a Research Fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge.[11] From 1998 to 2000, she held a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship in the Faculty of Divinity, University of Cambridge.[11] In 2000, she was appointed a University Lecturer in Philosophy of Religion in the Faculty of Divinity.[11] In 2006, she was promoted to Reader in Philosophy and Theology.[11] From 2016 to 2017, she was also a Mellon Teaching Fellow at the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities.[15] In 2015, she was made Professor of Metaphysics and Poetics.[16]

In March 2018, it was announced that Pickstock would be the next Norris–Hulse Professor of Divinity.[17] She took up the Chair on 1 October 2018.[17]

Works and major themes[edit]

Pickstock has from the start of her career been associated with the radical orthodoxy movement,[18] on account of her collaboration with John Milbank, her then doctoral supervisor.[19] Her own academic work is both like and unlike that of her mentor: they are both identifiable as "post-modern critical Augustinian" theologians,[20] heavily influenced by both 20th-century French theory and the Christian Platonic tradition. At the same time, where Milbank's work (especially Theology and Social Theory) tends to focus on the historical critique and re-narration of other authors' projects, Pickstock's writing tends to be more question-oriented, more affirmative, and less narrative. Her work also tends to begin more frequently with direct reflection upon the writings of Plato, an engagement she has continued to pursue throughout her career.[21]

The dominant theme in Pickstock's writing thus far has been the way in which humans participate in the divine creation through language. Within this paradigm, at least four interlinked subthemes have found expression in her various writings: liturgy, music, repetition, and truth. First, the meaning and significance of liturgy, which was the subject of Pickstock's dissertation and first book, After Writing: On the Liturgical Consummation of Philosophy (1998). There, and in a number of related essays, she argues that language is fundamentally “doxological”: “that is to say, language exists primarily, and in the end only has meaning as, the praise of the divine” (xiii). Thus, liturgical speech is language par excellence, and the modern fall away from spoken, liturgical order into written metaphysical systems is the key to philosophy's failure over the last few centuries. The path of return, as Pickstock conceives it, runs through the postmodern (largely French) critique of modernity, then beyond to a non-foundational theology of liturgical encounter--an encounter with being through language.

A second, closely related theme of Pickstock's work has been the place of music in Western thought. Building on the foundation of Augustine's treatise De Musica, several of Pickstock's essays have argued that music is “the science that most leads toward theology,"[22] provided it be properly conceived as a contemplative mode of measuring reality. While certain modern approaches to music, as narrated by Pickstock, have tended to distort its metaphysical character in various ways, certain 20th-century and contemporary composers such as Olivier Messiaen and James MacMillan have opened up possibilities of radical return.[23]

Third, Pickstock has focused in much of her writing on the metaphysical significance of the phenomenon of repetition. While the notion is already present in After Writing,[24] she focuses on it squarely in her 2013 book, Repetition and Identity, which opens with the claim that we define our own identities precisely in the act of identifying those of others. Somehow, identification of self and other are bound up together: “The external acts of recognition, and our internal access to a specific identity, seem to depend upon one another” (1). The book presents a phenomenological account of how this dual identification happens in human experience, and happens precisely through repetition. For the form of the other--of anything a person encounters or takes in--will necessarily strike the perceiver differently every time, so that each act of recognition circles back to the other's identity, but in a new way. Every recognition is thus both the same as and different from all previous perceptions. This habit of repetition in difference defines us: “the idea of forms and forces flowing into us from without, and there self-transmuting and pleating back upon themselves”--this “form[s] our subjectivity,” our sense of ourselves (17). At the same time, the identity of the other--of each identified thing--comes more and more fully into being through the repetitions of human language, which are always adding new details, new angles.

The fourth major theme in Pickstock's thought has been the metaphysics of truth. In her co-authored 2001 book, Truth in Aquinas, as well as her 2020 monograph, Aspects of Truth: A New Religious Metaphysics, Pickstock develops an approach to truth that is both philosophical and theological at once, ultimately because she thinks the two discourses cannot in fact be separated. At the heart of the latter book is the claim that “the epistemological approach to truth”--the dominant modern way that ever more carefully unpacks the conditions for truth's possibility--cannot in fact “yield truth” (x). This is because, for Pickstock, truth is always already metaphysical, referring to a way of being in relation to what is, and this primary relation of knower and known can never be reached by epistemological pathways. Now, given the postmodern deconstruction of modern epistemology, she believes the time is right for a radical return to “pre-modern metaphysical approaches to truth. . . . For such approaches,” she writes, “truth coincides with being as a ‘transcendental’, and yet it is surplus to being, insofar as being itself is taken to be manifestatory and expressive” (x). In other words, the human knower, in relation to being as such, always has something of his or her own to add, a new aspect, a fresh take, a singular angle of reception. Truth is thus ever growing, ever adding to the deposit of being by means of differentiated repetition.

Pickstock's project, finally, circles around the way that human experience, especially as mediated through language, music, art, works to extend the creation beyond what it now is, participating in the never-finished work of God.



  • After Writing: On the Liturgical Consummation of Philosophy. Oxford: Blackwell. 1997. ISBN 978-0-631-20672-9.
  • Radical Orthodoxy: A New Theology. Edited with John Milbank and Graham Ward. Radical Orthodoxy. London: Routledge. 1999. ISBN 978-0-415-19699-4.
  • Truth in Aquinas. With John Milbank. Radical Orthodoxy. London: Routledge. 2001. ISBN 978-0-415-23335-4.
  • Thomas d'Aquin et la quête eucharistique. Paris: Ad Solem. 2001. ISBN 978-2-940-09068-6.
  • Repetition and Identity. The Literary Agenda. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2013. ISBN 978-0-19-968361-1.
  • Aspects of Truth: A New Religious Metaphysics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2020. ISBN 978-1-10-884032-3.

Selected articles and book chapters[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "Pickstock, Prof. Catherine Jane Crozier". Who's Who 2018. Oxford University Press. 1 December 2018. doi:10.1093/ww/9780199540884.013.U290758 (inactive 31 October 2021). Retrieved 10 December 2018.CS1 maint: DOI inactive as of October 2021 (link)
  2. ^ a b Cush, John P. (12 July 2018). "Radical Orthodoxy: An Overview". Homiletic & Pastoral Review. Retrieved 13 October 2021.
  3. ^ Kennedy, Paul (2007). "On Radical Orthodoxy" (MP3). Ideas (Podcast). Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Event occurs at 0:25:29–0:26:10. Archived from the original on 11 February 2018. Retrieved 11 February 2018 – via Centre of Theology and Philosophy.
  4. ^ Levering, Matthew (2005). Sacrifice and Community: Jewish Offering and Christian Eucharist. Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing. p. 177. ISBN 978-1-4051-3689-1.
  5. ^ a b Shortt, Rupert (2005). God's Advocates: Christian Thinkers in Conversation. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. p. 112. ISBN 978-0-8028-3084-5.
  6. ^ Smith, James K. A. (17 December 2015). "Christmas, 2015: Dr. James K.A. Smith". The Anglican Planet. Interviewed by Careless, Sue. Archived from the original on 12 February 2018. Retrieved 12 February 2018.
  7. ^ "Faculty of Divinity Webpage". 22 July 2013. Retrieved 1 October 2013.
  8. ^ "Emmanuel College Webpage". Retrieved 1 October 2013.
  9. ^ See Pickstock's 2001 interview with Stratford Caldecott, "Radical Orthodoxy," at Catholic Culture. Accessed 7 October 2020.
  10. ^ See Pickstock's interview with Jeffrey Tucker, "More than Immanent: An Interview with Catherine Pickstock." Sascred Music. 134.4 (Winter 2007): 65.
  11. ^ a b c d e f "Spotlights: Professor Catherine Pickstock". Emmanuel College. University of Cambridge. Retrieved 19 April 2017.
  12. ^ Neaum, David (2016). "Chapel and Chaplaincy Report" (PDF). The St Catherine's Magazine. St Catharine's College Society. p. 32. Retrieved 9 February 2018.
  13. ^ a b Pickstock, Catherine (1996). The sacred polis: language, death and liturgy. E-Thesis Online Service (PhD). The British Library Board. Retrieved 9 February 2018.
  14. ^ Kennedy, Paul (2007). "On Radical Orthodoxy" (MP3). Ideas (Podcast). Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Event occurs at 0:05:57–0:06:12. Archived from the original on 11 February 2018. Retrieved 11 February 2018 – via Centre of Theology and Philosophy.
  15. ^ "Catherine Pickstock". Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities. University of Cambridge. Retrieved 19 April 2017.
  16. ^ "UNIVERSITY OFFICES AND GRANTS OF TITLE". Statutes and Ordinances of the University of Cambridge. University of Cambridge. 2015. Retrieved 19 April 2017.
  17. ^ a b "Professor Catherine Pickstock has accepted election to the Norris-Hulse Professorship of Divinity". Faculty of Divinity. University of Cambridge. 2018. Retrieved 25 September 2018.
  18. ^ Byassee, Jason (21 September 2009). "Bold Apology". The Christian Century. Retrieved 8 February 2018.
  19. ^ On the relationship with Milbank, see the Caldecott interview.
  20. ^ See John Milbank, "Postmodern Critical Augustinianism: A Short Summa in Response to Forty-Two Unasked Questions", Modern Theology, 7.3 (April 1991): 225-237.
  21. ^ At the beginning of Aspects of Truth, Pickstock declares that "my thesis is unabashedly Platonic", and the same could be argued of her other works (xi). See for example Ch. 1 of After Writing, her several scholarly articles on Plato, and her popular essay on "Truth and Courage" from August, 2020.
  22. ^ Catherine Pickstock, "The Musical Imperative", Angelaki, 3.2 (1998): 7.
  23. ^ See Catherine Pickstock, "God and Meaning in Music: Messiaen, Deleuze, and the Musico-Theological Critique of Modernism and Postmodernism", Sacred Music, 134.4 (2007): 40–62.
  24. ^ E.g. in the description she gives of its centrality to the Eucharist (247)

External links[edit]

Academic offices
Preceded by Norris–Hulse Professor of Divinity