Ecclesiastical History

Church History is the academic discipline concerned with the history of Christianity, of Christendom, its doctrines, institutions, and cultural influence. As a discipline it occupies the intersection of Classics, theology, philosophy, salvation history, political theory, legal and constitutional history, as well aesthetics, the history of art, architecture, and music. It is arguably the original interdisciplinary scholarly pursuit. In the view of Cotton Mather (1663-1728), in his Ecclesiastical History of New England (1702), “Of all History it must be confessed that the Palm is to be given unto Church History ... because the Church wherein the Service of God is performed, is much more precious than the World, which was indeed created for the Sake and Use of the Church.” This may not be the prevailing historiographical sentiment of the 21st century, but it does nonetheless underline the seriousness of the undertaking.


Chair of Ecclesiastical History

The Rev. Dr. Henry H. Walsh (1899-1969) was appointed Associate Professor of Ecclesiastical History in 1948, the first occupant of this chair subsequent to the 1948 agreement between the Joint Board of Theological Colleges and McGill University which constituted the Faculty of Divinity. Walsh graduated B.A. from the University of King’s College in Halifax, Nova Scotia, S.T.M. from General Theological Seminary, New York, and received a Ph.D. from Columbia University (aka “King’s College in the Province of New York” prior to the American Revolution) in 1933. He was known to his friends as “Nick”: after a day in the libraries, Dr. Walsh would frequently arrive late at night at the homes of friends, and they came to call him Nicodemus after the enquirer who, according to the Gospel of John (3:1), “came to Jesus by night.” Walsh was the author of the first volume of the pioneering critical trilogy A History of the Christian Church in Canada. His contribution was titled The Church in the French Era: From Colonization to British Conquest (Toronto: Ryerson Press, 1966). The usage of “Church” in the singular marked a significant ecumenical advance over previous histories. Walsh argued that the Canadian churches, unlike their American counterparts, looked “beyond denominationalism as the final destiny of the church” towards that of ecumenism. This ecumenical sentiment is inscribed on the mantelpiece in the Birks Senior Common Room: “Ecce quam bonum et quam jucundum, habitare fratres in unum!” (Psalm 133) Walsh retired in 1968. His successor, H. Keith Markell (1915-1983), was a graduate of McGill and the Presbyterian College. He published a history of the Presbyterian Church in Canada and also a History of the Faculty of Religious Studies, McGill University, 1948-1978. In 1980 Markell was succeeded by Edward Furcha (1935-1997). Born in Transylvania, Furcha emigrated to Canada and graduated B.A. in History from McMaster University. He pursued graduate studies at the University of Zurich with Paul Tillich, Gerhard Ebeling, and Fritz Blanke. He completed his Ph.D. in 1966 at Hartford Seminary. Furcha published extensively on the Radical reformers, on the theology of Huldrych Zwingli, and published a two-volume edition of Zwingli’s Works. He sat on McGill Senate and was Marshall of the University Convocation. He died suddenly of a heart attack in 1997 and was succeeded by the current Professor of Ecclesiastical History, Torrance Kirby in the same year. Like his predecessor H.H. Walsh, Kirby graduated B.A. in Classics from King’s College, Halifax and completed his M.A. in Classics at Dalhousie. From there he went to Christ Church, Oxford as a Commonwealth Scholar and received a D.Phil. in Modern History for a dissertation of the political theology of Richard Hooker in 1988. Kirby is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, McCord Fellow of the Princeton Centre of Theological Inquiry, and a life member of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. His research centres on the English Reformation and the history of the reception of Platonism. He currently holds a four-year SSHRC Insight Grant to investigate ‘The Reception of German Mysticism in Early Modern England’, a collaboration with colleagues at the Centre for the Study of Platonism at Cambridge University.


Torrance Kirby is Professor of Ecclesiastical History and sometime Director of the Centre for Research on Religion at McGill University, Montreal where he has been a member of the Faculty of Religious Studies since 1997. He holds B.A. and M.A. degrees in Classics (Greek Philosophy and Literature) and was a Commonwealth Scholar at Christ Church, Oxford University where he received a D.Phil. degree from the Faculty of Modern History in 1988. He is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and has held Visiting Fellowships at St. John’s College, Oxford, New College, University of Edinburgh, the Folger Shakespeare Library, and the American Academy in Rome. He is a McCord Fellow of the Princeton Centre of Theological Inquiry and a life member of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. Recent books include Persuasion and Conversion: Religion, Politics and the Public Sphere in Early Modern England (2013), The Zurich Connection and Tudor Political Theology (2007), and Richard Hooker, Reformer and Platonist (2005). He is also the editor of A Companion to Richard Hooker (2008), Richard Hooker and the English Reformation (2003), and co-editor of A Companion to Peter Martyr Vermigli (2009) and Paul’s Cross and the Culture of Persuasion, 1520-1640 (2014). His most recent book is an edition of selected Sermons at Paul’s Cross, 1521-1642 (Oxford, 2017).

Graduate Students


Peter Bullerwell, Title: “Grace Hath Use of Nature”: Reformed Soteriology and Neoplatonic Ontology in the Thought of Richard Hooker (Tomlinson Fellowship, 2014-2017; SSHRC and Keenan Fellowships, 2018-2019).

Michael Barrow, “Unknowing The Cloud of Unknowing: forgetting contemplation in Early Modern England” (Graduate Excellence Fellowship 2011-2015, 2015-2016).

Rebecca Coughlin, “Ficino as a Reader of Dionysius the Areopagite: Dionysian themes in the De Vita and Platonic Theology” (Graduate Excellence Fellowship 2011-2013, 2015-2016; McBurney Fellowship 2014-15; Research Assistant, SSHRC Partnership Grant).

Andrew Fulford, “‘A Sacred and Holy Rule of Well-Doing’: Richard Hooker’s Interpretation of the Old Testament” (two-year FRS Entrance Fellowship; Graduate Excellence Fellowship; Research Assistant funded by SSHRC Partnership Grant).

Christian Finnigan, “On the limits of Temporal Power in establishing religious uniformity: Martin Bucer’s De Regno Christi” (Finlay and McConnell Fellowships).

Daniel Heide, “The World as Sacrament: The Incarnational Ontology of Maximus Confessor” (SSHRC CGS, 2016-2019; St. Maurice and Brown Corp. Fellowships, 2018-2019).

Hannah Korell, “Weird Women: Gender and Conversion in Early Modern English Drama.” Comprehensive co-supervison with Paul Yachnin and Maggie Kilgour, Department of English.

Naznin Patel (2017-), M.A., 2017 in Philosophy of Religion (McGill). Social Science and Humanities Research Council Award (2020-2022). Naznin project seeks to map the non-Christian sources in the philosophical works of Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499)—one of the most important and eclectic thinkers of the early Italian Renaissance—and investigate how these enabled him to conceive and articulate a philosophy of religion that went beyond Christian thought and Greek philosophy. More broadly, she wishes to understand the role of Renaissance religious thought in the development of modern and contemporary theories of religion and religious discourse.

Kevin Walker, “Meister Eckhart” (SSHRC CGS Fellowship, 2016-2019; Topping Fellowship, 2018-2019).


Rachel Kelleher, “l’Ame Enfranchie: Marguerite Porete, her Mirror of Simple Souls, and the Rejection of Gestural Enclosure in the Middle Ages,” (SSHRC M.A. Fellowship, 2020-2022), co-supervision with Professor Margeurite Deslauriers, Department of Philosophy.

Naomi Stanley, “The Medical Ethics of Witchcraft and Mental Illness in Early Modern Europe: a Physician’s Duty and Responsibility,” [M.A. in the History of Medicine; joint comprehensive supervision with Professor Faith Wallis, Department of History].

Completed Degrees

Successfully completed Ph.D.

Bilal Baş (Ph.D., Religious Studies, 1/10/08) “Ecclesiastical Politics during the Iconoclastic Controversy: the impact of Eusebian imperial theology on the Justification of imperial policies”—Dr. Baş is Associate Professor of the History of Religions, Marmara University, Istanbul—monograph published under the title Eusebius of Caesarea’s ‘Imperial Theology’ and the politics of the Iconoclastic Controversy. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 2013.

David Goodin (Ph.D., Religious Studies, 4/4/11) “Albert Schweitzer’s Reverence for Life: Its relevance for Contemporary Environmental Philosophy” [nominal co-supervision with Professor Greg Mikkelson, McGill School of the Environment], monograph published under the title The New Rationalism: Albert Schweitzer’s Philosophy of Reverence for Life. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s, 2013.

Steven Griffin (Ph.D., Religious Studies, 4/1/11) “Sixteenth-century Spanish Protestant Ecclesiology: the Confessions of Faith of Cassiodoro de Reina (1520-1594) and Antonio del Corro (1527-1591)”—Dr. Griffin is a Professor of World Christianity at Ryle Seminary, Ottawa Theological College.

Joshua Hollmann (Ph.D., Religious Studies, 22/1/14) “The Word of Concordance: Nicholas of Cusa’s De Pace Fidei and the metaphysics of Christian-Muslim dialogue”— Dr. Hollmann is Associate Professor of Theology at Concordia College, New York and Chair of the Department.—monograph published: The Religious Concordance: Nicholas of Cusa and Christian-Muslim Dialogue. Studies in the History of Christian Traditions, Vol. 185. Leiden: Brill, 2017; article published under the title “Mediating Religious Unity: Nicholas of Cusa’s shift from Council to Pope.” In Torrance Kirby and Matthew Milner, eds., Mediating Religious Cultures in Early Modern Europe, 15-34. Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Press, 2013; and “For the Peace on Constantinople: Nicholas of Cusa’s De pace fidei and the polis as nexus in Christian-Muslim Dialogue.” In Torrance Kirby, Rahim Acar, and Bilal Baş, eds. Philosophy and the Abrahamic Religions: Scriptural Interpretation and Epistemology, 297-312. Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2012. ‘Reading De pace fidei Christologically: Nicholas of Cusa’s Verbum Dialectic of Religious Concordance,’ Nicholas of Cusa and Islam: Polemic and Dialogue in the Late Middle Ages, ed. I.C. Levy, Rita George-Tvrtković, and Donald Duclow. Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2014. Hollmann is co-editor with Simon Burton and Eric Parker of Nicholas of Cusa and the Making of the Early Modern World. Studies in the History of Christian Traditions, Volume 190. Boston: Brill, 2018.

Barry Howson (Ph.D., Religious Studies, 13/1/00) “The Thought of the 17th-Century English Calvnistic Baptist Hanserd Knollys, c. 1599-1691”—Dr. Howson is currently Professor of Biblical Studies and Academic Dean at Heritage College and Seminary in Cambridge, Ontario—monograph published under the title Erroneous and Schismatical Opinions: The Question of Orthodoxy Regarding the Theology of Hanserd Knollys (c. 1599-1691). Leiden and New York: E.J. Brill, 2001.

Justin Irwin (Ph.D., History, June 2016) “Benjamin Keach and Baptist Identity in the Post-Restoration, 1660-1704” [joint supervision with Professor Brian Cowan, Department of History]—“‘Sweet mirth and Musick rare’: Sensual spirituality in the work of Benjamin Keach.” In Torrance Kirby and Matthew Milner, eds. Mediating Religious Cultures in Early Modern Europe, 191-219. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2013.

Rowshan Nemazee (Ph.D., Religious Studies, 24/10/07) “The Politics of heaven: a feminist eschatological reading of Augustine’s De civitate Dei” [joint supervision with Professor Patricia Kirkpatrick, Faculty of Religious Studies]—Dr. Nemazee is Associate Professor of Multi-/Interdisciplinary Studies, Champlain College, Burlington, Vermont.

Colin O’Rourke (Ph.D., Religious studies, 19/3/03) “God, Saint, and Priest: a comparison of mediatory roles in Roman Catholicism and Śrīvaisnavism with special reference to the Council of Trent and the Yatīndramatadīpikā” [joint supervision with Professor Katherine Young, Faculty of Religious Studies].

Jennifer Otto (Ph.D., Religious Studies, 21/5/14) “Pythagorean, Predecessor, Hebrew: Philo of Alexandria and the construction of Jewishness in early Christian writings” [joint supervision with Professor Ellen Aitken]—Dr. Otto is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies, University of Lethbridge, Albertamonograph Philo of Alexandria and the Construction of Jewishness in Early Christian Writings. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018. “Paideia in Genesis: interpretating Sarah and Hagar with Philo and Clement of Alexandria.” In Torrance Kirby, Rahim Acar, and Bilal Baş, eds. Philosophy and the Abrahamic Religions: scriptural hermeneutics and epistemology. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2012. (SSHRC-funded, Vanier Fellowship, 2010-2013).

Eric Parker (Ph.D., Religious Studies, 17/5/18) “The Sun in the sun: Peter Sterry’s contemplative moral theology” (Research Assistant funded under SSHRC Insight Development Grant, 2011-2012; Birks Fellowship 2011-2012; Graduate Excellence Fellowship 2012-2013; Keenan Fellow, 2016-2017; RA, SSHRC Partnership Grant).

Paolo de Petris (Ph.D, Religious Studies, 15/4/08) “Deus Absconditus: Calvin’s theodicy in the sermons on the book of Job”—monograph published as Calvin’s Theodicy and the Hiddenness of God: Calvin’s sermons on the Book of Job. Oxford, New York, Bern: Peter Lang, 2012.

Harold Ristau (Ph.D., Religious Studies, 17/10/07) “Against the Heavenly Prophets in the Matter of Images and Sacraments: Martin Luther’s polemical critique of the ‘demonic’ in radical Protestant soteriology”—Dr. Ristau is Assistant Professor of Theology at Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary, St. Catherine’s, Ontario—His monograph was published under the title Understanding Martin Luther's Demonological Rhetoric in His Treatise Against the Heavenly Prophets (1525). Lewiston, New York: Edwin Mellen Press, 2008.

Michael Storch (Ph.D., Religious Studies, 14/3/07) “Applied imagination: mechanics of magical images in the thought of Giordano Bruno”.

Cindy Wesley (Ph.D., Religious Studies, 6/3/01) “The Pietist theology and ethnic mission of the General Conference of German Baptists in North America, 1851-1920. Dr. Wesley is a Lecturer in the Faculty of Divinity, University of Cambridge,—monograph published under the title The role of piety and ethnicity in the formation of the General Conference of German Baptists, 1851-1920. Lewiston, New York: Edwin Mellen Press, 2008.

Jason Zuidema (Ph.D., Religious Studies, 18/9/06) “Peter Martyr Vermigli (1499-1562) and the outward instruments of divine grace” (funded under SSHRC Standard Research Grant, 2003-2006) —monograph published under the same title in the series Reformed Historical Theology, Bd. 4. Göttingen: Vandenhoek and Ruprecht, 2008.

Successfully completed M.A.

Kathleen Austin (M.A., Religious Studies, 27/8/03) “Aristotle, Aquinas, and the History of Quickening” [joint supervision with Professor Marguerite Deslauriers, Department. of Philosophy].

Nader Awad (M.A., Religious Studies, 5/1/04) “The trumpet’s blast: the political theology of John Knox”.

Michael Backhouse (M.A., Religious Studies, 30/08/03) “Completing the Vision: Søren Kierkegaard’s pseudonymous texts and the Attack upon Christendom”—monograph published: Kierkegaard’s Critique of Christian Nationalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

John Bellingham (M.A., Religious Studies, 23/12/13) “Christ exhibited and the covenant confirmed: the eucharistic theology of John Owen”.

Joshua Collins (M.A., Religious Studies, 23/07/06) “The concept of love in Saint Augustine’s Confessiones” [joint supervision with Professor Gaëlle Fiasse, Faculty of Religious Studies].

Melissa Davidson (M.A., Religious Studies, 23/08/12) “Preaching the Great War: Canadian Anglicans and the War Sermon, 1914-1918” [joint supervision with Dr. John Simons] (Kenneth Downes and Graduate Excellence Fellowships)—chapter published as “The Anglican Church and the Great War,” 151-168. Canadian churches in the First World War, ed. Gordon L. Heath. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock/Pickwick, 2014.

Lisa Gilbert (M.A., Religious Studies, 25/07/07) “To have authority over the body: the conjugal debt according to Gratian’s Decretum” [joint supervision with Professor Ellen Aitken, Faculty of Religious Studies].

Charles Irish (M.A., Religious Studies, 31/7/02) “‘The participation of God Himself:’ law and mediation in the thought of Richard Hooker”—chapter published as “‘Participation of God Himselfe:’ law, the mediation of Christ, and sacramental participation in the thought of Richard Hooker.” Richard Hooker and the English Reformation, ed. W.J. Torrance Kirby. Studies in Early Modern Religious Reforms, vol. 2. Dordrecht and London: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2003, 165-184.

Octavian Lucian Jarnea (M.A., Religious Studies, 2/11/06) “Les Faictz de Jesus Christ et du Pape: the polemics of French Reform before Calvin” (funded under FQRSC Research Grant, 2004-2006)—chapter of thesis published: “L’utilisation polémique de textes classiques dans Les Faictz de Jesus Christ et du Pape.” Les Imprimés réformés de Pierre de Vingle (Neuchâtel, 1533-35). Littératures 24.1 (2007), 217-236.

Mayyada Kheir (M.A., Religious Studies, 28/9/02) “Les (in)tolerances de l’Abbé Gregoire: Jansénisme et la Revolution française”.

Jennifer Otto (M.A., Religious Studies, 18/7/09) “Reason, Revelation, and Ridicule: assessing the authority of allegorical interpretation in Philo, Clement and Augustine” [joint supervision with Professor Ellen Aitken] (SSHRC-funded, 2008-2009).

Naznin Patel (M.A., Religious Studies, 14/11/17) “Marsilio Ficino and Avicennian Psychology: on Prophecy and Miracles”.

Geneviève Trudel (MA, Faculté de Théologie et de Sciences Religieuses, Université Laval, 15/3/04) “La Cène comme sacrement chez Zwingli”

Aleana Young (M.A., Religious Studies, 25/11/10) “What has Lyons to do with Rome? The ‘Martyrs of Lyons’ as a second-century exemplar of Christian community in the Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius”

Postdoctoral Fellowships

James Bryson (CREOR Visiting Fellowship, 2012-2013; SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellowship, 2013-15) “Nicholas of Cusa’s mystical theology in the iconology of the Renaissance”.

Frederick Tappenden (FRQSC Postdoctoral Fellowship, 2014-2015; SSHRC Partnership Grant RA) “Religion in the text and on the ground: the convergence of historiography and ethnography in Religious Studies”.

Simon Burton (Commonwealth and CREOR Postdoctoral Fellowships, 2012-2013) “Medieval roots of the theological virtues in Protestant scholastic thought, 1550-1675”.

Yazeed Said (CREOR Visiting Fellowship, 2010-2011) “The metaphysical foundations of Al-Ghazali’s Legal and Political Theology”.

René Paquin (FQRSC Postdoctoral Fellowship, 2005-2008) “Édition de la version originale d’un imprimé de Pierre de Vingle accompagnée d’une étude (Neuchâtel, 1533-1535)”.

Back to top