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The Department of History has a strong record of, and interest in, research on religion. The academic historical study of religion has been characterised by narratives of progression, such as a rationalisation of belief or a secularisation of society. Yet while these paradigms for the study of religion have been intensively criticised in recent years for their Eurocentric or teleological character, it is – paradoxically – not possible to simply replace them with other straightforward narratives.

Historians in the Department have thus worked both on a historicisation of the secularisation paradigm and have analysed the peculiar social and political configurations of religion in the period prior to 1800. This has enabled them to get a better understanding of the role of religion in pre-modern Europe, a clear sense of its significance in the modern world and an original grasp of its distinctiveness outside the history of the West. This reassessment involves aspects as diverse as beliefs, institutions, imaginations, rituals, discourses and symbols.

Religion is not only a pattern or system of belief that guides groups and individuals. It is also a way of delineating and articulating political communities, and thus, in the widest possible sense of the term, an ideology. Historians in the Department share an interest in the intersections between politics, identity and religion both in pre-modern and modern societies. They interrogate the ways in which communities of thought are shaped, structured and perpetuated by shared religious ideologies, and they conduct research on the ways in which religious ideologies make it possible to reconcile competing interests and to spur violent conflict.


Researchers Back to Top icon.


Esme works on the nineteenth-century British Empire. Her monograph, Missionary Discourses of Difference (Palgrave 2012) used Protestant missionary writings from India and southern Africa to explore the construction and experience of 'families', 'sickness' and 'violence' in the British Empire. One of the concerns of this project was to think about how the Christian conviction in the 'universalism' of humanity responded and related to colonial ideas of hierarchy and 'difference'. Her current work explores disability, particularly deafness, in the British Empire. This has led her to think about the work of Christian missions in metropolitan Britain as well as overseas and about the long legacies of Biblical formulations of 'anomaly' on understandings of the normative body.

Anthony is interested in questions of religious identity and their expression in theological, political and polemical forms. Principally this has involved the study of 'Anglican' identity, in his Catholic and Reformed: The Roman and Protestant Churches in English Protestant Thought, 1600-1640 (Cambridge, 1995, repr. 1996, 2002), and in his current project entitled 'England's Second Reformation: the Battle for the Church of England 1636-66'. He is also the editor of the first volume in the new Oxford History of Anglicanism, and has written a biography of the seventeenth-century pamphleteer Peter Heylyn (Laudian and royalist polemic in seventeenth-century England: the career and writings of Peter Heylyn (2007)). As well as his work on the international Synod of Dort (The British Delegation and the Synod of Dort (1618-19) (2005)), he has written on interactions between religious writers in England, the Rhineland Palatinate and the Netherlands.


Mary has researched and published widely on Spanish Catholicism, looking particularly at the links between politics and religion during the Civil War and Franco regime. Her Catholicism in the Second Spanish Republic (OUP, 1996) examined the conflicts of the 1930s in terms of religious identities and the ways in which these were mobilised behind a radical, right-wing agenda. This work fed into a wider interest in fascism and she also has a continuing interest in gender and religion. Her current project, a study of Franco's 'Crusade', looks at religious violence and argues that the civil war was, in many was, a war of religion. Her work on iconoclasm is published as 'The Keys of the Kingdom' in Chris Ealham and Michael Richards (ads), The Splintering of Spain (CUP, 2005)
Miriam's research currently focuses on Protestant minorities in the former Soviet Union. Themes which interest her include: the relationship between political and religious identities; religious ritual; conversion narratives; fears of the apocalypse; religion and emotion. She is currently principal investigator on a four-year AHRC-funded project entitled 'Protestants Behind The Iron Curtain: Religious Belief, Identity, And Narrative In Russia And Ukraine Since 1945'. The project combines oral history and archival research and will result in a website, document collection, and monograph. Her article 'Child Sacrifice in the Soviet Press: Sensationalism and the “Sectarian” in the Post-Stalin Era' is forthcoming in Russian Review.

Caroline works on Aztec and Spanish American history and the Atlantic world. One particular focus of her research is the role of ritual and religious violence, and her study of the Aztecs has sought to explain how human sacrifice can be a central and comprehensible part of everyday life and existence. Her first book Bonds of Blood: Gender, Lifecycle and Sacrifice in Aztec Culture, which integrates the study of sacrifice with a reinterpretation of Aztec gender and daily life, won the Royal Historical Society´s Gladstone Prize for 2008

Photo of Professor Martial Staub.
Professor Martial Staub
PDF Icon Publications
Martial has extensively published on the history of medieval Church, in particular on late medieval urban parish churches. His interest includes medieval endowment practice, civil religion in the Middle Ages and the continuities between the late Middle Ages and the Reformation in Germany. More recently, his research has focused on the relationship between religion and citizenship in medieval and early modern Europe through the lens of exile and voluntary poverty, on which he is preparing a monograph.

Benjamin has published widely on the history of the Catholic Church in West Germany, with a focus on the application of the social sciences during the three decades from 1945 to 1975. His book Encounters with Modernity (published in 2014 with Berghahn Books) aims to reinstate the concept of secularization into the debate on twentieth century religious cultures. Benjamin has also reassessed secularization and other master-narratives of religious change in a long-term perspective in his book Sozialgeschichte der Religion (2009). His current work in this field is focused on changes in twentieth-century Protestant nationalism in Germany, through a biographical case-study of Martin Niemöller, a Protestant pastor and figurehead of the Confessing Church in Nazi Germany.


Postgraduates (recent and current)

Mark Critchlow
Working on League memories and the recollections of Catholic political engagement in late sixteenth-century Paris.

Benjamin Lacey
Working on communities of religion in the Twelfth-Century North of England.

Anne James
Working on patristic scholarship in Jacobean England.

Robyn Parker
Working on the vita apostolica between 1098-1215 between inspiration and institutionalisation.