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Durham University

Department of Theology and Religion


Alec Ryrie appointed to Divinity Professorship at Gresham College

(17 May 2018)

Gresham College, London’s oldest Higher Education Institution, is delighted to announce the appointment of Alec Ryrie to the Divinity Professorship, which dates back to 1597.

Professor Ryrie is a leading authority on the history of Christianity. His first lecture series will explore how atheism has developed over the course of history and the role it plays in Christian culture.

Alec Ryrie said:

“I'm delighted to return to Gresham, an institution whose commitment to public intellectual engagement at the highest level is unlike anything else I know of; and I'm honoured to take up the role of Professor of Divinity. In the lectures I'll be giving - including the first series on the origins of modern atheism and secularism - I hope I'll be able to show that the history of religion isn't only important to religious people, but also to anyone who wants to understand how our culture and the modern world ended up looking the way they do, or who wants to understand where they might be going next.”

As Gresham Professor of Divinity, Alec Ryrie will continue the 420-year-old tradition of delivering free lectures aimed at the public within the City of London and beyond. During the academic year, Gresham College fills lecture halls for its lectures – a total of 130 a year.

Sir Richard Evans, Provost of Gresham College, said:

“From 2015 to 2017 Alec Ryrie, Professor in the School of Divinity at Durham University, won a strong following at Gresham College as Visiting Professor of the History of Religion. I am delighted that he has accepted the position of Gresham Professor of Divinity. His books, including The Age of Reformation, and Protestants: The Radicals Who Made the Modern World, have established his reputation as one of the world's leading historians of Protestantism. In his first series of lectures for Gresham College, he will be turning his attention to the subject of atheism, a strain of thought that has a longer history than many might imagine.”

A series of six lectures a year is delivered by each of the College’s ten Professors. These are augmented by series presented by several Visiting Professors and as many as 40 individual lectures from a range of illustrious speakers selected from the worlds of academia, politics and industry. All Gresham lectures are live streamed and made available on YouTube after the event. Over 2,000 lectures are archived and available to view on the College’s website.

Professor Ryrie’s lectures for 2018-19 are:

  1. How to Be an Atheist in Medieval Europe - Thursday 27 September 2018, 6 pm at the Museum of London
  2. How the Reformation Trained Us to Be Sceptics - Thursday 1 November 2018, 6 pm at the Museum of London
  3. How to Be a Shakespearean Atheist - Thursday 24 January 2019, 6 pm at the Museum of London
  4. How to Be a Puritan Atheist - Thursday 14 March 2019, 6 pm at the Museum of London
  5. The Spiritual Quest Against Religion - Thursday 4 April 2019, 6 pm at the Museum of London
  6. The Abolition of God - Thursday 9 May 2019, 6 pm at the Museum of London

About Alec Ryrie

Alec Ryrie is Professor of the History of Christianity at Durham University, President-elect of the Ecclesiastical History Society for 2019-20 and Co-Editor of the Journal of Ecclesiastical History. From 2015-17 he was Visiting Professor in the History of Religion at Gresham College and gave two series of lectures on the history of Protestant Christianity. He studied History and Theology at the Universities of Cambridge, St Andrews and Oxford. Since 1997 he has been a Reader in the Church of England, and he is licensed to the parish of Shotley St. John (diocese of Newcastle).

Professor Ryrie is a historian of the Reformation era and of Protestantism more widely, with a particular focus on England and Scotland in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. He is an expert on the emergence and development of Protestant and radical beliefs, identities and spiritualities, and on the history of Protestant missions and missionaries. He has written several prize-winning books and his 2017 book Protestants: The Radicals Who Made the Modern World gives an overview of the history of Protestantism from Luther to the present.

His current research is on the early history of doubt, scepticism and 'atheism', before such things became intellectually respectable. His book on this subject, Unbelievers: The Religious Quest to Abolish God, will be published in 2019. Many of the book’s themes will be explored in his first series of lectures as Gresham Professor of Divinity on The Origins of Atheism.

About the Divinity Professorship

The Gresham Professors of Divinity have given public lectures on a range of religious matters for over 400 years. The Divinity Professorship at Gresham dates back to the College’s founding in 1597, in accordance with the will of Sir Thomas Gresham, founder of the Royal Exchange. Gresham College was the first higher education institution in London, following the earlier foundations at Oxford and Cambridge. It was created on the guiding principle of providing free education for all. A group of professors at Gresham College founded the Royal Society in the seventeenth century. The outgoing Gresham Professor of Divinity is Alister McGrath.

More information about the Professorship can be found here: