William Stuart Frederick Pickering was born on 29 January 1922 in Enfield, London, and died on 23 May 2016 in Coton, Cambridge, where, after a simple but moving service in his local church, St Peter’s, he also lies buried. W.S.F. Pickering, as he signed himself in his many publications, but Bill as he was affectionately known to family, friends and colleagues, combined a strong Christian faith and ministry as an Anglican priest with an equally strong devotion to scholarship in his chosen fields of the sociology of religion and of Durkheimian studies, in which he became a leading international authority. In a way, he was highly successful in keeping these commitments separate, in the sense of keeping his faith and his scholarship from obviously and publicly intruding on one another. It is nonetheless clear that their combination meant a lot to him personally, and indeed his social science can be seen as helping to deepen and enlighten his faith. As he explained in the preface to his book Anglo-Catholicism (1989), his youthful piety was replaced by the ‘tools of sociology’, something that ‘proved to be so painful’; yet with pain there can be ‘purification’, in a critical effort that entails ‘a search for basic positions and the raising of fundamental issues’.
Bill was the only child of parents who were both practising members of the Church of England. However, he was born at a time when, after the traumas of the Great War, there was a resurgence of various spiritualist and religious movements, including, not least, Anglo-Catholicism…
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