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Durham University

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Staff Profile

Professor Alec Ryrie, FBA

Telephone: +44 (0) 191 33 43926
Room number: Abbey House 204
Departmental Rep (Theology) in the Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies
Telephone: +44 (0) 191 33 43942

Contact Professor Alec Ryrie (email at


I am Professor of the History of Christianity, and my field is the history of the Reformation and of Protestantism more widely. My first book was on the early history of the English Reformation, but I have since ranged further into the history of the Protestant tradition in England, Scotland and internationally. Persistent themes in my work have been the emotional history of religion; religion and politics, war, violence and martyrdom; the history of pious practice and devotion; and histories of religious unorthodoxy, including magic, radical dissent and ‘atheism’. My most recent book, Unbelievers: An Emotional History of Doubt (2019), the fruit of a Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship I held from 2015-18, explores some of these issues.

My current research is mostly on the history of how Protestantism became a global religion in the seventeenth century, a largely untold story which I think is revealing about deeper currents in the history of Christianity and of the modern world.

I studied History at Trinity Hall, Cambridge (1990-3) and Reformation Studies at St Andrews (1993-4) before completing a DPhil in Theology at Oxford (1996-99) under the supervision of Diarmaid MacCulloch. I taught in the History department at the University of Birmingham from 1999-2006 before moving to Durham in 2007. I served as Head of Department here from 2012-15. I am now the lead convenor of the History of Christianity seminar. I was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 2019.

In addition to my role in Durham, I am Professor of Divinity at Gresham College, London, for 2018-21; I am one of the co-editors of the Journal of Ecclesiastical History and in 2019-20 am president of the Ecclesiastical History Society. I have held research fellowships at the Folger Shakespeare Library (three times), the Huntington Library and the Leibniz Institute for European History. I have also done a wide range of work on radio, television and podcasts, and both print and online journalism. I am a licenced Reader (lay minister) in the Church of England.

In Durham I teach on modules including Introduction to the History of Christianity, The Reformation and its Legacy and The Globalisation of Christianity, and I find I derive a lot of my energy as a historian from working with our excellent students on these and other modules. I have also been lucky enough to supervise some outstanding research students here and am always on the lookout for more. My current and recent students’ topics include:

  • Studies of various early modern English theologians including Richard Hooker, Thomas Goodwin, Ralph Venning and John Flavel
  • Church and child in early modern England
  • The careers of chantry clergy in the sixteenth century
  • The reformation of the liturgy under Henry VIII
  • Sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Protestant views of Lollardy
  • The historiography of Lollardy and Wyclif in the 18th-20th centuries
  • The theology of death and dying in early modern Scotland
  • Calvin's eucharistic theology
  • The printing industry and religion in the reign of Edward VI
  • The material culture of the sixteenth-century parish church
  • The material culture of seventeenth-century English Catholicism
  • Pastoral theology in sixteenth-century Lutheranism
  • The metrical psalms in the English Reformation

Research Interests

  • History and theology of the English Reformation
  • History and theology of the Scottish Reformation
  • Piety, prayer and spirituality in Protestantism
  • Moderation in the Reformation era
  • Magic and faith in early modern Europe


Authored book

Edited book

Chapter in book

Journal Article

Media Contacts

Available for media contact about:

  • Middle Ages & Early Modern History: History of Tudor England
  • Religion: History of the Reformation
  • Theology: History of the Reformation
  • Middle Ages & Early Modern History: History of the Reformation
  • Middle Ages & Early Modern History: Reign of Henry VIII


Selected Grants

  • 2015: Monks in Motion: A prosopographical study of the English and Welsh Benedictines in exile, 1553-1800 (£185190.20 from AHRC)