Ronald Hutton Appointed Gresham Professor of Divinity

Professor Ronald Hutton

Gresham College, London’s oldest Higher Education Institution is delighted to announce the appointment of Professor Ronald Hutton as Gresham Professor of Divinity. He remains Professor of History at the University of Bristol.

Hutton is a prolific writer and broadcaster on the history of paganism. He has helped transform people’s view of paganism, which is now included in religious studies departments in universities around the world. He is on the editorial board of six academic journals related to paganism and witchcraft.

He succeeds Professor Alec Ryrie, whose lectures – especially the series on atheism – were the College’s surprise lockdown hit. 

Professor Hutton said: “Paganism and pagan beliefs, including witchcraft, should be part of our study of religion and its history.

"Pagan religions were suppressed as religious systems at the time of conversion to Christianity, but elements of them survived as major components of literature, art and folklore. This has only recently become a major area of study and my first lecture series will discuss some of the newest discoveries in this field.

“I am thrilled to come to lecture at Gresham. I am state-educated and prepared my own way to a scholarship at Cambridge University in part by attending public lectures, and would like to help others find their way to further study via these lectures.” 

Dr Simon Thurley, Provost of Gresham College, said: “Professor Hutton is one of our leading historians and a world authority on pagan religions, we look forward to welcoming him to the College.”

Dr Wendy Piatt, CEO of Gresham College, said: "The Divinity Professorship at Gresham usually focuses on Christianity; exploring Paganism is going to be a fascinating departure for our audience.”

In 2022-23, Professor Hutton will be lecturing on Finding Britain’s Lost Gods:

Lecture 1: Gods of Prehistoric Britain
Britain has one of the richest of all pagan heritages in Europe, defined as the textual and material evidence for its pre-Christian religions. The island is possessed of monuments, burial sites and a range of other remains not only from several distinct ages of prehistory, but also from three different major historic cultures. This lecture will look at what we know of prehistoric worship, focusing on Stonehenge and the bog body known as Lindow Man, to examine the difficulties of interpreting evidence for ritual behaviour for which no textual testimony survives.

Lecture 2: Paganism in Roman Britain
What was religion like in Roman Britain? What pre-Roman deities persisted? Which new gods came with Romans? This lecture looks at the evidence: inscriptions, statues and figurines, carvings and all the impediments of ritual, as well as the testimony of hundreds of burials. It shows how the Romans developed the cults of native deities such as Sulis and Belatucadros, and imported their own official divinities such as Jupiter and Mercury and mystery religions such as that of Mithras.

Lecture 3: Anglo-Saxon Pagan Gods
When the Western Roman Empire crumbled, the Anglo-Saxon peoples who occupied Britain brought their own paganism with them. This was Germanic, with a pantheon of deities that included Woden, Thunor, Tiw and Frig. Its temples were wooden structures that leave scant traces in the landscape, but you can find evidence for their beliefs in cemeteries like Sutton Hoo. This lecture looks at such evidence and at literature such as Beowulf and the history written by the Christian scholar Bede.

Lecture 4: Viking Pagan Gods in Britain 
The Norse and Danish invaders - commonly called Vikings - who occupied Britain in the ninth and tenth centuries, brought with them their own pagan gods. Odin, Thor, Tyr, Loki and Freya left their trace on the British landscape, in the form of scenes from their mythology carved on stone slabs, and Viking paganism has a further considerable legacy of material evidence in richly furnished graves, especially on the Isle of Man.

Lecture 5: Finding Lost Gods in Wales
Since the late 19th century, scholars have thought the poetry and stories of medieval Wales, gathered in manuscripts such as the Red Book of Hergest and the Book of Taliesin, represent stories about pagan gods and goddesses – but recently this has been challenged. These books deal with magic and enchantment and contain vivid characters such as Rhiannon, the proud and wilful Arianrhod, the beautiful and treacherous flower-maiden Blodeuwedd, the decent and vulnerable Lleu Llaw Gyffes, and the supreme bard Taliesin.

Lecture 6: How Pagan Was Medieval Britain? 
Did paganism survive all through the Middle Ages, as scholars once thought, remaining the  religion of the common people, while the elite had embraced Christianity? Or did it die out earlier? This lecture will consider a broad range of evidence, including figures in seasonal folk rites, carvings in churches, the records of trials for witchcraft and a continuing veneration of natural places such as wells. It will also compare ancient paganism and medieval Christianity as successive religious systems.