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Alec Ryrie

Professor Alec Ryrie: Why Protestant Missionaries in the Tudor and Stuart Period were More Common, and Less Successful, Than You Think

Event Details

Saturday 29 April, 3 - 4pm, OS.0.01, Michael Berry lecture theatre, Old Sessions House


It’s often said that Christian missions to the non-Christian world in the 16th and 17th centuries were overwhelmingly a Catholic affair, in the Spanish and Portuguese empires. This lecture will show that from the beginning of English expansion across the oceans, there was a persistent Protestant missionary dimension to their imperial projects – above all in North America, but also in the Caribbean, in the Near East and elsewhere. Substantial resource and energy was ploughed into these ventures; but they bore very little fruit. The reasons for this pattern of missionary failure include structural problems, entanglements with the nascent slave trade and with the English conquests of Ireland, and deep-seated convictions about what ‘conversion’ to Protestantism meant and how it might happen. The lecture will tour these problems and argue that the failure of early Protestant missions reveals some important truths about the nature of the period as a whole.


Alec Ryrie is Professor of the History of Christianity at Durham University, Professor of Divinity at Gresham College, London, and a Fellow of the British Academy. He is president of the Ecclesiastical History Society and co-editor of the Journal of Ecclesiastical History. His books include The Age of Reformation (2009, 2017), Being Protestant in Reformation Britain (2013), Protestants (2017), Unbelievers (2019), and most recently The English Reformation: A Very Brief History (2020).

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