Peter Vardy (born 1945) is a British academic, philosopher, theologian and author who has been described as
“one of the leading experts of religion and values education in Britain, Australia and New Zealand.”
”Theology” said that
“Peter Vardy is a gifted communicator. He is the best popularizer of the philosophy of religion currently working in Britain.”
Vardy held the post of vice principal at Heythrop College, London, from 1999 to 2011.
Education & Business Career
After Charterhouse, Vardy trained as a chartered accountant, becoming a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in 1967. During the 1970s, in addition to being a partner in a firm of chartered accountants and management consultants he served as director or chairman of a number of listed and unlisted companies. He also ran management training sessions for Nat West and Swiss Bank in South Africa and the UK.
Vardy left business to study Theology at the age of 30, taking a BA at the University of Southampton in 1979 and then a PGCE at the West Sussex Institute of Higher Education in 1980 before starting a MTh at [King’s College London], which was awarded in 1982. Vardy’s PhD on the Concept of Eternity was supervised by Lord Stewart Sutherland and was awarded in 1985.
While lecturing at King’s College London, Vardy lectured in the philosophy of religion and also at the UCL Institute of Education, on their master’s degree in education programme. Vardy started lecturing at Heythrop College, University of London whilst it was still in Oxfordshire. The story of how this happened is told in “Twelve Wheels from Turkey”, a travelogue by Vardy’s first wife Anne Vardy. Vardy lectured through Heythrop’s time at Cavendish Square and then at Kensington Square, delivering courses on Kierkegaard, the Concept of God and the Philosophy of Religion and the MA module in the Philosophy of Religion. Vardy became the first Anglican Vice-Principal of Heythrop College in 1998, retaining the position until his retirement in 2011, overseeing major projects including the purchase of the Kensington Square site in 2009.
Vardy’s primary academic interest is in the philosophy of Søren Kierkegaard, whose philosophy he lectured in at the University of London for 25 years. He presented papers on Kierkegaard’s work at conferences including the Australasian Association of Philosophy Conference in 1995. In 2010 Vardy’s “An Introduction to Kierkegaard” (SPCK 2008) was described as
“An astonishing feat … Vardy forms a compelling reading of [Kierkegaard’s] life and his thoughts for any student of philosophy or those simply seeking to reach an adequate understanding of the philosopher”
by Suresh Vythylingam in the ”Southwestern Journal of Theology” Vardy’s early contribution to Kierkegaard studies is outlined by Aaron Edwards in ”Kierkegaard Research: Sources, Reception, Resources”, Vol. 18, Tome III. Vardy organised annual dinners on the anniversary of Kierkegaard’s death from 1987 until his retirement in 2011.
As his other publications suggest, Vardy is also interested in ethics and values education, sexual ethics, the concept and nature of God, the relationship between science and religion, truth claims in different religions, globalisation and what it means to live a fulfilled human life, providing a spiritual perspective in a secular world and ethics in business.
Whilst at Heythrop College, Vardy served on the University of London’s Board of Theology (1990–93) as well as on the academic board of Leo Baeck College, (which trains rabbis in the Jewish Reformed Tradition in Britain) and worked with The Coexist Foundation from 2007 until 2012 on inter-faith issues and towards a greater understanding of Islam. He is a member and previous President of the London Society for the Study of Religion (1996–98) and wrote the foreword to ”Sensible Religion”, a collection of essays put together partly in response to his own book ”Good and Bad Religion” by fellow members Dan Cohn-Sherbok and Christopher Lewis in 2014. Vardy also gave a keynote addresses on this theme at the ”Religion and Secularism” Conference which marked the 60th anniversary of Cumberland Lodge in 2008, the ”Affirming Liberalism” conference at [[Wellington College, Berkshire in 2010.
Religious and Values Education
Vardy served as chair of governors of Shebbear College in Devon, Britain’s second oldest Methodist school. This experience led him to campaign for the “less easily measured” aspects of education, work which included leading the “Be Spirited” conference and initiative for North Tyneside LEA in 2007-8. Vardy has been a keynote lecturer at conferences in the field of education run by the [International Baccalaureate Organisation, Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference |HMC], AHISA, Girls’ Schools Association [GSA], [UNESCO] and [United Nations Human Rights Council [UNHRC].
In 2012 Vardy gave the keynote lecture on Anglican Schools’ Identity at the 15th Biannual ASCENT conference for Anglican Schools across Australasia. Vardy gave the St Wilfrid Lecture at Ripon Cathedral in November 2012.
Whilst at Heythrop, Vardy served as an editorial adviser for ”Dialogue”, a journal of Religion and Philosophy aimed at Sixth Form students, which developed out of lecturing he did in the 1990s with Dr Jeremy Hall and John Waters through Dialogue Education, in 2001 through Dialogue Education. Involved in recruitment for Heythrop, Vardy started to work more broadly to increase the popularity of studying Religious Studies and Philosophy in School and at University. He started to run day conferences for sixth form students in the mid 1990s and set up Wombat Education Ltd. to run these in 1998.
In 2002 Richard Huish College, Taunton, a Further Education College in Taunton, started to provide the administrative support necessary to run the sixth form events, which were burgeoning with a 40% rise in numbers taking AS Level Religious Studies between 2001 and 2002. Vardy hired a number of public figures, lecturers and school-teachers to speak at events run through Wombat Education Ltd. and other ventures, including Richard Dawkins, John Polkinghorne, Tony Benn, Lord Stewart Sutherland and school-teachers Dr. Jeremy Hall, John Waters, Dr. John Frye, Hugh Campbell, Henry Kirk and Judith Grill.
In the UK, Vardy currently runs popular day-conferences for 14- to 18-year-old students as well as teacher-training events through Candle Conferences Ltd, a business he set up with his wife Charlotte Vardy. Charlotte is a secondary school teacher with whom he has written three of his books.
Since 2010 Vardy has been campaigning against curriculum changes in England which have recently led to a decline numbers studying Religion, especially after the age of 14.
Dialogue Australasia Network
In the 1990s Vardy started travelling to Australia, working as a consultant for Geelong Grammar School and running public events for students and teachers on themes related to Religious and Values Education. In 1997, he was one of the founders of Dialogue Australasia Network and lectured at its conferences between 1999 and 2010, while membership rose to around 400 schools.
Vardy developed the ”Five Strands Approach” to Religious and Values Education in 1997, which is currently used by more than 300 schools across Australia and further afield by schools such as Diocesan School for Girls, in Auckland New Zealand.
Vardy also served as an editorial adviser and occasional author for Dialogue Australasia Journal, which was designed to support schools in teaching about Religion and Values.
Vardy’s events in Australasia and further afield in Hong Kong, Singapore and New Zealand continue to be run by Wendy Rowe, who trades as Wombat Education.
Vardy sees himself as an heir to Socrates, corrupting the young by encouraging and enabling them to think critically. In an interview with Julian Baggini and Jeremy Stangroom for ”What Philosophers Think” (Continuum 2003), Vardy explained that he sees philosophy of religion as an exercise in exploring the limits of and the nature of human knowledge, putting life in context, establishing a noetic framework and encouraging humility. In an interview with Jules Evans for the “Philosophy for Life and other Dangerous Situations” blog in 2014, Vardy spoke of the importance of teaching Ethics for encouraging engagement with the curriculum and creating rounded adults rather than robots for the production line. This affirms Vardy’s approach to education as a means of helping young people to become fully human, good in the Aristotelian sense, which was the basis for the training he provided for North Tyneside LEA in 2007. The background to Vardy’s approach was set out in his books “What is Truth?” (2001) and “Being Human” (2003) and later in a paper for Dialogue Australasia in 2007.
Vardy has served as an editorial for BBC and Channel 4 documentaries, has written for ”Times Higher Education” as well as newspapers such as “The Age”. Vardy’s Introduction to Kierkegaard was recommended by the BBC Radio 4 Open Book Feature.
Articles and Chapters