Ian Burdon

Bachelor of Divinity (Honours)

Current position: Scottish Government, Head of eProcurement Scotland

Why did you choose to study at New College? 

I graduated from New College with an Ordinary BD in 1981 and stayed on for an Honours year, graduating in 1982. That was the way it was done back then if you studied Divinity straight from school.

I look back on my time at New College with considerable fondness but also with quite some distance. Although I started in 1977 (on my eighteenth birthday) as a prospective ordinand in the Scottish Episcopal Church, I left in 1982 professing no faith at all.

I have gradually lost touch with most of my fellow students as time has passed but the intellectual influence of my time at New College has never left me and remains important.


What are your best memories of your time at New College?

I remember Ecclesiastical History 1 (taught by Alex Cheyne, Peter Mathieson, David Wright and Andrew Ross) as one of the best University classes I ever attended. David Mealands penetrating intellect together with the methodological obliqueness and wit of Douglas Templetons lectures on Romans in New Testament 2 made it a special course, as were Divinity 2 and 3 and my classes with Gian Tellini in Practical Theology 3 and Honours.

However the course which made the most mark upon me was one of the classes outside of New College which we were obliged to do. It was suggested to me by Douglas Templeton, my first Director of Studies who thought that it might appeal to me.

The course was Logic and Philosophy of Science and introduced me to the thought and writing of Karl Popper, Thomas Kuhn and, inadvertently, to Paul Feyerabend.

There remains one other gift from my New College years, and it is the best one of them all: it was while there that I met my wife of 21 years. The path from meeting to marriage was not at all direct but that is another story altogether.


How has New College influenced your life?

It is difficult to overstate the importance of this course to development of the ways in which I continue to think and analyse things even now. It certainly stabilised my approach to life and to studying for a BD.

It gave me a framework in which to articulate my growing dissatisfaction with what I was doing and to realise that I did not actually believe that which I would be called upon to preach were I to pursue the path to ordination.

This was a profoundly liberating realisation and allowed me to refocus my studies on philosophy and sociology of religion and eventually on the interplay of these in the sacrament of Baptism.

I no longer have a copy of my Honours dissertation and would probably be mortified with embarrassment to read it now with a quarter century of distance - but well recall its title, Initiation and Commitment: the Context and Function of Baptismal Symbols, and the fun of writing and correcting it on a typewriter it before the invention of the word processor or laptop computer.


What has been your career path?

After graduating I spent time at home with my father who had been ill for much of my time through New College before joining the Civil Service in July 1983 (this was at the height of Thatcherism there was little market for unemployed theologians).

While not an auspicious start to a glittering career, in fact it eventually presented opportunities which I would not otherwise have had. These include being sponsored through a second degree (I graduated LLB with Distinction from Edinburgh in 1993) and a year long international study fellowship examining developments in electronic land titles registration for the Cabinet Office.

I am currently with the Scottish Government where I developed and lead eProcurement Scotland.

While the links are not obvious, to the extent that I have had any success in my career it is in large part due to ways of thinking which I began to develop at New College, both in my academic studies and over snooker and beer at the student union or at Douglas and Liz Templeton's Tuesday night open houses.

Over the years other influences have played their part of course, but my time at New College was the foundation (despite an unpromising start with three resits of my first year exams!)