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Department of Theology and Religion


Professor Alec Ryrie

Telephone: +44 (0) 191 33 43926
Room number: Abbey House 204

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. My recently published book Protestants: The Radicals Who Made the Modern World gives an overview of the history of Protestantism as a whole from Luther to the present. I am also one of the co-editors of the Journal of Ecclesiastical History. 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, Susan Royal, Mike Snape 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 History of Christianity seminar.

I am on research leave for the years 2015-18 (serving a Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship) and will not be teaching undergraduates during this period (my colleague Susan Royal is covering our teaching in Reformation, and doing so superbly). I am continuing to teach selected doctoral students, however, and in 2017-18 I am offering a MA module on England's Religious Revolution, 1640-60.

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

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.

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).

The work on my recent history of Protestantism has taken me into the realm of public history, with several broadcast and print media contributions in both Britain and the United States. In particular, much of that book was prefigured in my lectures as Visiting Professor in History of Religion at Gresham College for 2015-17, which are available in full through their website.

I am currently (2015-18) serving a three-year Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship . My project focuses 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. I hope during 2019 to publish a book on this theme, for which my working title is An Emotional History of Atheism.

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)