Stewart Sutherland, Baron Sutherland of Houndwood

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The Lord Sutherland of Houndwood

Lord Sutherland of Houndwood.jpg
In the House of Lords chamber, 2016
President of the Royal Society of Edinburgh
In office
Preceded bySir William Stewart
Succeeded bySir Michael Atiyah
Personal details
Born25 February 1941
Died29 January 2018 (aged 76)
Alma materUniversity of Aberdeen
Corpus Christi, Cambridge

Stewart Ross Sutherland, Baron Sutherland of Houndwood, KT, FRSE, FBA, FKC (25 February 1941 – 29 January 2018) was a Scottish academic and public servant and one of Britain's most distinguished philosophers of religion. He sat as a crossbencher in the House of Lords.


He was educated at Robert Gordon's College. In 1963 he graduated from the University of Aberdeen with a first-class Master of Arts in Philosophy, and received a Bachelor of Arts in the Philosophy of Religion from Corpus Christi College, Cambridge in 1965.


He was then appointed assistant lecturer in philosophy at the University College of North Wales, and three years later returned to Scotland as a lecturer at the University of Stirling. In Stirling, he established the Religious Studies department and recruited John Drane and the late Glyn Richards to work alongside him in this enterprise. Then in 1977 he became Professor of the History and Philosophy of Religion at King's College London, and was subsequently appointed Vice-Principal and Principal there in 1981 and 1985 respectively.

In 1990, Sutherland became Vice-Chancellor of the University of London, and was appointed Chief Inspector of Schools two years later. He succeeded this post as Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Edinburgh, in which position he served until 2002. During his Principalship the University made significant advances in teaching and research, effectively implementing organisational change. He was the Provost of Gresham College between 2002 and 2008. In 1992, he was elected to the British Academy, and in 1995 he became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, the same year he was knighted and became president in 2002. He served on the Higher Education Funding Council for England, and the equivalent body in Hong Kong.

Following his involvement in the establishment of the Age Concern Institute of Gerontology at King's College London, he was invited by the incoming Blair government in 1997 to chair a Royal Commission on Long-Term Care of Older People. This recommended that government (including the NHS and local authorities) should be responsible for providing free care in the spirit of the NHS Act to all people even if their illness takes the form of a chronic mental frailty. His recommendations were taken up by the devolved Scottish government, though were never implemented for England and Wales.


As a philosopher of religion, Sutherland had focused on how people continue to be morally responsible human beings in pluralist societies without the metaphysical security of traditional and potentially divisive systems of belief. Influenced by his intellectual mentor, Donald M. MacKinnon, Sutherland's approach has brought the clarity and rigour of the Anglo-American tradition of analytic philosophy into conversation with literary and philosophical thinkers on the European continent.

In Atheism and the Rejection of God: Contemporary Philosophy and "The Brothers Karamazov" (1977) and Faith and Ambiguity (1984), he explored continental thinkers including Dostoevsky, Kierkegaard, Camus and Weil. His Wilde Lectures at Oxford University – published as God, Jesus and Belief: The Legacy of Theism (1984) – explored a range of intellectual, moral and existential issues in contemporary philosophical theology, developing further his argument that Christian ethical and faith traditions continue to have an enduring value at a time when former patterns of belief have broken down. He further promoted his field of study in two influential edited volumes, The Philosophical Frontiers of Christian Theology: Essays Presented to D. M. MacKinnon (with Brian Hebblethwaite), (1982) and Religion, Reason and the Self (with T A Roberts), (1989).

In two other edited volumes, World Religions (1988), and The Study of Religion: Traditional and New Religions (with Peter Clarke), (1991), he had contributed to the increasingly significant field of religious studies in school and university curricula, while also promoting understanding and mutual respect amongst peoples of different faiths.[1]

Achievements and honours[edit]

Sutherland's shield of arms[2]

Sutherland was made a Knight Bachelor in 1995.[3]

On 29 June 2001, he was created a life peer as Baron Sutherland of Houndwood, of Houndwood in the Scottish Borders,[4] and was the following year elected to the presidency of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. In the introduction to the House of Lords ceremony, his Senior Supporter was The Lord Flowers and his Junior Supporter was The Lord Wilson of Tillyorn.

He was made a Knight of the Thistle in 2002,[5] was the recipient of a number of honorary degrees, and continued to serve with various institutions. In 2004 he became a Fellow of Birkbeck, University of London.[6] On 31 May 1996 he received an honorary doctorate from the Faculty of Theology at Uppsala University, Sweden.[7]

In 2005, he became a member of the editorial board of the Encyclopædia Britannica.[citation needed]

Artistic recognition[edit]

A bronze bust of Lord Sutherland, by Vincent Butler, stands at the head of the stair to the Playfair Library in Old College, University of Edinburgh.[citation needed]

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ Special Minute of the Senate of the University of Edinburgh
  2. ^ "Baron Sutherland of Houndwood KT FRSE FBA FKC". The Heraldry Society of Scotland. Retrieved 8 August 2019.
  3. ^ "No. 54058". The London Gazette. 9 June 1995. p. 8075.
  4. ^ "No. 56263". The London Gazette. 4 July 2001. p. 7875.
  5. ^ "No. 56780". The London Gazette. 12 December 2002. pp. 15113–15114.
  6. ^ Information about fellows of Birkbeck, University of London
  7. ^ Naylor, David. "Honorary doctorates - Uppsala University, Sweden". Retrieved 28 May 2019.

External links[edit]

Academic offices
Preceded by
The Lord Cameron of Balhousie
Principal of King's College London
Succeeded by
John Beynon
Preceded by
The Lord Flowers
Vice-Chancellor of the University of London
Succeeded by
Andrew Rutherford
Preceded by
Sir David Smith
Principal of the University of Edinburgh
Succeeded by
Timothy O'Shea
Preceded by
Sir William Stewart
President of the Royal Society of Edinburgh
Succeeded by
Sir Michael Atiyah