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Gresham College: Prof. Alec Ryrie – Atrocity and Religion in European Memory – #5/6 – Choosing Religious Atrocities in Ireland


About this series – Atrocity and Religion in European Memory

Death, including violent death, is an everpresent part of human history. But only a few deaths are shocking, memorable and useful enough to become atrocities: stories that, as they are told and re-told, continue to shape the worlds of the people who remember them.

In this series Professor Ryrie will go back to the notorious atrocities of Europe’s wars of religion: the Spanish Inquisition, Bloody Mary, the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, the massacres at Drogheda and Wexford. As we ask how deaths become atrocities, and what happens as a result, we will also meet at the era’s other atrocities; the forgotten victims, like the Japanese Catholics of the 17th century; the friendless victims, like the universally-persecuted Anabaptists; and the victims of the great witch-hunt, who have been recovered, but also distorted and exaggerated, by our own age’s sensibilities. An atrocity is never quite what it seems.


About this lecture

Nowhere in Europe have the wars of religion lasted longer than in Ireland. At the heart of this are two rival sets of memories of atrocities: above all, Protestants recall the massacres of the 1641 rebellion, and Catholics recall the massacres perpetrated by Oliver Cromwell in 1649.

As well as setting these competing narratives into their wider context, this lecture will ask why the partisan memorialisation of religious atrocity in Ireland has proved so exceptionally durable.





Professor Alec Ryrie

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.

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