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Thursday, 24 January 2019, 6:00PM - 7:00PM
Museum of London

How to be a Shakespearean Atheist

Professor Alec Ryrie FBA


Villainous atheists were, like witches, stock figures of the European imagination in the Renaissance. But when Shakespeare and his contemporaries put them on the stage, ‘atheists’ could be uncomfortably compelling. 

This lecture will explore how the sixteenth century found ways of distancing itself from religion – like Christopher Marlowe, who raged against its moral constraints, or Michel de Montaigne, a devout Catholic who cloistered his faith in one honoured corner of his life where it would not be disturbed.

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Alec Ryrie is Gresham Professor of Divinity. He is also 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 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. From 1999-2006 he taught at the University of Birmingham, moving to Durham in 2007. Having been Head of the Department of Theology and Religion from 2012-15, he is currently completing a three-year Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship (2015-18). He is on the editorial boards of St Andrews Studies in Reformation History (Ashgate) and the Royal Historical Society's Studies in History and New Historical Perspectives. Since 1997 he has been a Reader in the Church of England, and he is licenced 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. Much of the book was prefigured in his lectures at Gresham College in 2015-17. You can watch the lectures in full here.

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.

Professor Ryrie's lecture series are as follows:

2019/20 Atrocity and Religion in European Memory

2018/19 The Origins of Atheism

All lectures by the Gresham Professors of Divinity can be found here.

Current Gresham Professor of Professor of Divinity

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