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Durham University

Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies (IMEMS)


The list below shows Durham University research staff who are members of IMEMS. Click the member's name to see a more detailed biography and department.

We also welcome anyone from outside the University with an interest in our work to join. Membership is free of charge. You will receive invitations to our programme of events, with a weekly emails digest about what is happening in the Insitute and further afield. To join IMEMS contact:

Professor Alec Ryrie

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 a historian of Protestant Christianity. My specialism is the history of England and Scotland in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, but I have interests in the emergence and development of Protestant and radical beliefs, identities and spiritualities more widely in that era and beyond.

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 will be president of the Ecclesiastical History Society. My blog occasionally discusses how I hold all this together.

Historical theology is one of Durham's traditional strengths. Within the Department, my own work complements that of my colleagues Krastu Banev, Rik van Nieuwenhove, Mike Snape and Clare Stancliffe, and I also find things to argue about with Lewis Ayres, Douglas Davies, Mathew Guest and others. Through the University's Institute for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, there are also links with specialists in related fields in the departments of History, English, Music, Archaeology and elsewhere. I co-convene the History of Christianity seminar.

I am happy to supervise research students on subjects relating to religion, theology, culture, society and politics in late medieval and early modern Britain, and on many topics relating to the wider European Reformation. My recent and current research students' projects include:

  • the career and theological milieu of Archbishop Matthew Parker
  • Anglican concepts of episcopacy and authority
  • Church and child in early modern England
  • the work of early modern English theologians including Richard Hooker, Thomas Goodwin, Ralph Venning and John Flavel
  • the careers of chantry clergy in the sixteenth century
  • the devotional significance of shifting ecclesiastical material culture in the English Reformation
  • the reformation of the liturgy under Henry VIII
  • religious deviance in the Elizabethan diocese of Durham
  • apocalypticism in Restoration England
  • sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Protestant views of Lollardy
  • 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

My research interests have focused on the culture and politics of religious reform in England and Scotland, and have moved out in widening circles from there. My doctoral work, eventually published as The Gospel and Henry VIII, examined how early evangelical reformers in England dealt with the peculiar political pressures of Henry VIII's reign, and argued that this period was decisive in forming the politically radical strand of English Protestantism's character. My work on the early English Reformation drew my interest to the very different path of events in the neighbouring kingdom of Scotland. My second book, The Origins of the Scottish Reformation, examined how the culture and politics of Scottish Protestantism slowly took shape, arguing that the process was contingent and shaped decisively by the use and threat of violence.

In 2013 I published Being Protestant in Reformation Britain (OUP), a study of the spirituality of English and Scottish Protestantism c. 1530-1640, winner of the Society for Renaissance Studies' book prize and of the triennial Richard L. Greaves Prize. This grew in part out of the AHRC Research Network on worship in the early modern world which I administered during 2008-09. Several of the papers from the Network's conferences are published by Ashgate as Private and Domestic Devotion in Early Modern Britain (ed. Jessica Martin and Alec Ryrie, 2012) and Worship and the Parish Church in Early Modern Britain (ed. Natalie Mears and Alec Ryrie, 2013).

My most recent book is a history of Protestantism worldwide from Luther to the present, published in the UK as Protestants: The Radicals Who Made the Modern World (2017). Doing this book took me into the realm of public history, with several broadcast and print media contributions in both Britain and the United States.

I recently completed a three-year Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship focusing on the experience of doubt, scepticism and 'atheism' during the period before such things became intellectually respectable, with a particular focus on mid-seventeenth century England. A book on this theme titled Unbelievers is forthcoming with HarperCollins.

I am currently beginning a new research project on the early history of Protestant cross-cultural mission in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

My other interests include:

  • the history of religious radicalism and its spirituality
  • religion and the history of the emotions, a theme explored in a 2016 edited volume titled Puritanism and the Emotions in the Early Modern World (ed. with Tom Schwanda)
  • Puritanism, its meaning and character
  • the porous frontier between religion and magic in this period, which was one of the themes I explored in a microstudy published in 2008: The Sorcerer's Tale described one individual's career in the medical, criminal and magical underworlds of Tudor London.
  • religious moderation, religious violence, and the commemoration of martyrs, which I have explored in several articles and in an edited collection, Moderate Voices in the European Reformation (ed. with Luc Racaut, 2005) .

My other publications include The Age of Reformation (2009; 2nd edn 2017), a textbook on religion, politics and society in the British Isles in the Tudor age.

I am on the editorial boards of St Andrews Studies in Reformation History (Ashgate) and the Royal Historical Society's Studies in History. Since 1997 I have been a Reader in the Church of England, and I am licenced to the parish of Shotley St. John (diocese of Newcastle).

I studied History as an undergraduate, at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, before completing a Master's in Reformation Studies at St. Andrews and a D.Phil in Theology at St. Cross College, Oxford (completed in 2000). From 1999 to 2006 I taught in the Department of Modern History at Birmingham University.

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

Chapter in book

Edited 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)