Chaplain Stella Aldwinckle: A Biographical Sketch of the Spiritual Foundation of the Oxford University Socratic Club

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Conference Proceeding

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Although the Oxford University Socratic Club is most often identified with its first faculty advisor and president, C. S. Lewis, the club itself grew out of the philosophical and theological curiosities that were felt, in large part, by the undergraduate class of the early 1940s. In a 1985 audio interview [AI] the club’s founder, Chaplain Stella Aldwinckle, would recall that the inception for the Socratic Club began at a ‘fresher’s tea’ at the rectory of St. Aldate’s toward the end of Michaelmas term of 1941. It was then that a young Somervillean woman by the name of Monica Shorten told the newly arrived Aldwinckle that she was “very disappointed in the sermons that the different clergy are preaching,” in that they were taking “God’s existence and Christ’s divinity for granted“ (Aldwinckle AI, 8). When Aldwinckle inquired if any of her friends shared her concerns, Shorten’s response was an enthusiastic “Oh yes,” adding that along with her Christian friends there were “Plenty, plenty, of agnostics and atheists” who were just as interested as she was in discussing religious and philosophical issues (Aldwinckle AI, 8). Inspired by her conversations with Shorten and her friends, Aldwinckle would post an announcement on the Somerville College Junior Common Room bulletin board inviting all parties, including “Atheists, Agnostics come to the discussion,” on what she would later refer to in the second Socratic Digest [SD] as a “philosophical approach to religion” (Aldwinckle SD no. 2, 1).

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