30 June 2014

John Hughes, Dean of Jesus College,
dies in car crash near Cambridge

John Hughes, Dean of Chapel at Jesus College, Cambridge, died in a car crash on Monday evening

Patrick Comerford

I have been saddened tonight to learn of the death of the Dean of chapel at Jesus College, Cambridge, the Rev Dr John Hughes, who was driving his car when it was involved in a crash near Melbourn, outside Cambridge, late yesterday [Sunday, 29 June 2014].

I first met Dr Hughes (35) in Cambridge three years ago when he lectured in Sidney Sussex College in 2011 as part of the summer school programme organised by the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies. He also lectured in philosophy, ethics and social thought in the Faculty of Divinity in Cambridge.

The Master of Jesus College, Professor Ian White, said: “The loss of John Hughes is acutely felt as the life of the college was greatly enriched by him. A former undergraduate of the college, he was both an outstanding academic who inspired the students he taught, and a faithful priest and pastor who touched profoundly all those with whom he came into contact. He will be deeply missed.”

Dr Hughes’s car, which had been travelling northbound, was thought to have been badly damaged by fire immediately after the crash. A passenger in his car, a 36-year-old woman from Cambridge, suffered serious but not life-threatening injuries. A second person, a 22-year-old man from Cambridge, had minor injuries.

The only person in the other car, a 67-year-old man, has suffered slight injuries.

Among those who have been paying tribute to Dr Hughes this evening are the MP for Cambridge, Dr Julian Huppert, who said: “I had the great pleasure of knowing John for many years, and enjoying a number of holidays with him. He was an incredibly thoughtful and caring person, and still managed to be great fun.”

He added: “Many of us watched how well he was doing in the Church, and expected him to rise even higher. Now alas we will never know. My heart goes out to his family and friends, and to those who worked with him at Jesus College and Exeter. He is a great loss.”

Tributes are also flooding in to Dr Hughes on his Facebook page and to the Facebook page of Jesus College.

Jana Howlett says: “John was a born pastor: enquiring, understanding, compassionate. He communicated this, as well as his enormous enjoyment of life, to all who met him. This is such a shock to all of us who knew him and worked with him.”

Tom Bradshaw says: “The premature death of a person as kind, thoughtful, intelligent, modest and warm as John is hugely sad and I am deeply shocked.”

John John was a student at Westcott House from 2001 to 2005. During that time he completed his PhD at Emmanuel College, Cambridge. After studying theology in Cambridge under Professor Janet Soskice and in Oxford under Professor Oliver O’Donovan, he completed his PhD on ‘Theologies of Work’ with Dr Catherine Pickstock and Dr Jeremy Morris, published as The End of Work (Blackwell: 2007). He became a curate in the Diocese of Exeter on leaving Westcott, and he returned to Cambridge in 2009, first as Chaplain in Jesus College and then as Dean of Chapel.

He taught philosophy and ethics, with a particular interest in aesthetics and political thought. He published a paper on the Russian theologian Sergei Bulgakov in Sobornost, and he contributed a chapter in a recent volume on the Crisis of Global Capitalism. He was also working on a project on the role of divine ideas in the doctrine of creation.

At the summer school in Sidney Sussex College in 2011, he said the global financial crisis has brought about a questioning of dominant neo-liberalism, and has raised theological questions about the ultimate ends of the economy. He was speaking on the topic: “Beyond the Secular Market: Christian Social Teaching and the Economic Crisis.”

Dr Hughes has beenpart of the Radical Orthodoxy movement, which is rooted in the Cambridge theological tradition, and provides a critique of the violence of secular social theories. Its main figures include John Milbank, Catherine Pickstock and Graham Ward.

Dr Hughes argued that morning that the free market has long been bound up with secularism, and he set out how Christian theology has responded to this, arguing that the markets need morals.

The market was once seen as the answer to everything and, until the recent crisis, the market was untouchable and went unquestioned. But the crisis has seen a widespread rejection of the myth of a morally neutral free market and of the neoliberal utilitarian fantasy.

Since 2008-2009, it has been recognised that the market is not an end in itself, and a new consensus has emerged, he told us.

Prior to the 2009 summit, Gordon Brown spoke in Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London, about a society that is free but not laissez faire, pointing out that markets cannot self-regulate but can self-destruct. About the same time, David Cameron had spoken in Davos in 2009 about markets without morality, and capitalism without a conscience, saying the markets are a means to an end and not an end in themselves. Cameron had argued that we need to shape capitalism to suit needs of society.

Looking at the significance of this language, Dr Hughes said the politics of virtue may be on the rise, and that questions that ask what the market is for are quasi-theological questions.

The market is fundamentally cultural, therefore we did not have to end up here. The present crisis was not a natural happening, but was due to specific, ideological decisions, he said.

The tower in the chapel in Jesus College, Cambridge ... the Revd Dr John Hughes of Jesus College died in a car crash near Cambridge this evening (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Corrected: 2 July 2014, with additional details.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this piece. John and I had been working closely on a new book on Anglican Social theology to which he had contributed a characteristically incisive assessment of the newly emerging strands within Anglican social thought. It is particularly poignant that the book arrived from the printer this morning. John was always a joy to work with - with a very rare combination of virtues, having a superb intellect at the same time as being a thoroughly lovable and decent human being - not an inevitable combination even among theologians. He reminded me of the young Rowan Williams and I am sure that, had he lived, he would have made a comparable contribution to the church and to theology.

May he rest in peace and rise in glory.

Malcolm Brown

Patrick Comerford said...

Thank you Malcolm,

It's so sad to lose such a good person and such a sharp theological intellect. A real loss to Cambridge and to the Church of England.