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Department of Theology and Religion


Professor Alec Ryrie

Head of Department in the Department of Theology and Religion
Telephone: +44 (0) 191 33 43942
Room number: Abbey House 108

(email at


I am a church historian: my field is the history of the Reformation era, and my specialism is the emergence and development of Protestant beliefs, identities and spiritualities in sixteenth and seventeenth-century England and Scotland. But I also have wider interests in the history of Christianity in the modern era, and am one of the co-editors of the Journal of Ecclesiastical History. And I am Head of Department during 2012-15. 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, Jeremy Bonner, Franklin Harkins and Clare Stancliffe, and I also find things to argue about with Lewis Ayres, Douglas Davies and Mathew Guest. 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 and elsewhere. I co-convene the Ecclesiastical History seminar, with Prof. Stephen Taylor (History).

I offer a range of undergraduate modules, from survey courses on the history of Christianity and on Christianity in the early modern world; through a second-year project modules on martyrdom in the Reformation era. When I return to full-time teaching in 2016 I expect to be offering final-year and Masters-level courses on English Puritanism and on radical religion in the English Civil War and Republic.

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, John Flavel and Paul Baynes
  • 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

My research interests have focused on the culture and politics of religious reform in England and Scotland. 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.

My most recent book is Being Protestant in Reformation Britain (OUP, 2013), a study of the spirituality of English and Scottish Protestantism c. 1530-1640, winner of the Society for Renaissance Studies' book prize for 2012-13. 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 current project is a history of Protestantism from Luther to the present, focusing on its perennial internal conflicts. A book on this theme is under contract with HarperCollins / Penguin USA, and will be out for the quincentenary of the Reformation in 2017.

My other interests include:

  • the history of doubt and atheism in the early modern period, and its intimate relationship with religion
  • 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), 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 am an occasional contributor to the Church Times and to Times Higher Education.

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


Books: authored

Books: edited

Edited works: contributions

  • Ryrie, Alec. (2010). The Afterlife of Lutheran England. In Sister Reformations: The Reformation in Germany and England = Schwesterreformationen Die Reformation in Deutschland und in England. Wendebourg, Dorothea. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck. 213-234.
  • Ryrie, Alec (2009). The slow death of a tyrant: learning to live without Henry VIII, 1547-1563. In Henry VIII and his Afterlives: Literature, Politics and Art. Rankin, Mark, Highley, Christopher & King, John N. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 75-93.
  • Ryrie, Alec & Ó hAnnráchain, Tadhg (2008). Les îles Britanniques et l'Irlande. In L'Europe en conflits: les affrontements religieux et la genèse de l'Europe moderne vers 1500-vers 1630. Kaiser, Wolfgang Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes. 287-319.

Essays in edited volumes

Journal papers: academic

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: Reign of Henry VIII
  • Middle Ages & Early Modern History: History of the Reformation

Selected Grants

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