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News > Life After Hymers > David Gosling

David Gosling

How do you feel about a ride on a tiger?
David Gosling (at Hymers 1946 to 1957)
David Gosling (at Hymers 1946 to 1957)

‘A ride on a tiger?’ 

Life after Hymers was significantly shaped by three years in the science sixth prior to university. I scraped into the sixth form with four ‘O’ Levels (not including junior school maths!). A combination of superb teaching and determination led to a state scholarship to read physics at Manchester University.

Physics was daunting, but I loved astronomy and did two internships at the Royal Observatory, where I photographed a ninth magnitude asteroid called Interamnia with a 26 inch reflector. I was also part of the team at the Jodrell Bank Radio Telescope, bouncing radio waves from the surface of Venus. My postgraduate research, however, was in nuclear physics and for this I used the six million volt van der Graaf generator on the main campus.

For financial reasons I lived rent-free in a vicarage in a run-down part of East Manchester where I also assisted at the local church, and on completion of my research degree I decided to explore the possibility of ordination. This led to Cambridge, where I did a second undergraduate degree in theology at Fitzwilliam College. But I was restless. I had made the acquaintance of some Indian students, and took advantage of a university-based link with St. Stephen’s College in Delhi. I went there in 1965 for four years to lecture in physics, where I was also ordained.

St. Stephen’s College was the premier institution in Delhi University – possibly in India. In 1967 I went with a college relief group to alleviate the effects of a famine in Bihar; there I met Jayaprakash Narayan, the Gandhian social reformer. I later met Mother Teresa, who seemed to take an instant dislike to me! With a group of students I climbed the breathtakingly beautiful Manali Peak (18,600ft) in the Himalayas. I wrote and broadcast extensively for the media on science topics, and had a weekly science column in the Hindustan Times.

From Delhi I went to Lancaster University to do more research. I was then appointed to a lectureship at Hull University where my research interests were divided between ongoing research on science and religion in South Asia and the ethical dimensions of science policy (including nuclear power). The latter involved in 1976 being secretary to public hearings on Britain’s first commercial reactor and following the year taking part in the Wind Scale Public Local Inquiry. Shortly after this I was invited to the East – West Centre for postgraduate studies in Hawaii as a visiting fellow in energy studies.

“How do you feel about a ride on a tiger?” asked a press reporter when I took up my next major job as director of Church and Society at the World Council of Churched (WCC) in Geneva. Hull had been in the forefront of Margaret Thatcher’s cuts to universities so I took advantage of a generous severance package to move to a job which would allow me to continue my twin interests in science and religion, and the ethics of science and energy policy, increasingly in relation to the environment.

The Geneva job was well-paid, but contractual. I raised money from Germany and employed capable staff, including Cecile, a brilliant Belgian doctor, who enabled us to set up the first ecumenical and international consultation on AIDS. I initiated a study into the long term effects of radiation from nuclear tests in the Marshall Islands. In the Philippines I was tear-gassed and shot at by a water cannon while taking part in a peaceful march on Human Rights Day. In Tonga, I preached at a Methodist Church before their king. I also made personal contact with my penfriend of many years, Uta, in East Germany by crossing the Berlin Wall.
On dismounting the metaphorical tiger I returned to Cambridge where I was appointed to a position at the University church and subsequently to a research fellowship at Clare Hall. I maintained my environmental interests during this period and in 1992 took part in the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. I taught an environmental course relating to South Asia in the Faculty of Education. More recently I was science consultant for the BBC2 Natural History series “Wonders of the Monsoon”.

My Clare Hall Spalding Fellowship enabled me to pursue my research in India, based for the second time at St. Stephen’s College, where I introduced a new course on environmental science. During this three-year period I set up public lectures on energy for the future, one of which was attended by a Russian diplomat. I’m not sure how much I’m supposed to say about this, but my subsequent collaboration with this Russian, assisted without his knowledge by MI6, brought my familiarity with nuclear waste disposal completely up to date!

My final job was from 2006-2010 when I was appointed principal of Edwardes College – a prestigious science-based college – in the University of Peshwar in Pakistan. A good job when I started, but it became progressively difficult as the Taliban moved in: I received a personal death-threat for promoting co-education. More about that in my recently published Frontier of Fear*. The book-launch was in March 2016 and Dr. Rowan Williams presided over the occasion. In so far as he represents both the church (as former Archbishop of Canterbury) and the academic world (as head of a Cambridge University College) the event combined both the religious and scientific parts of much of what my life has been all about since leaving Hymers College.
David L. Gosling


*David L. Gosling’s Frontier of Fear: Confronting the Taliban on Pakistan’s Border, London and New York, I B Tauris (The Radcliffe Press), 2016.

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