Submitting Institution

University of Cambridge

Unit of Assessment

Theology and Religious Studies

Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

Language, Communication and Culture: Literary Studies
History and Archaeology: Historical Studies
Philosophy and Religious Studies: Religion and Religious Studies

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Summary of the impact

Eamon Duffy has made a major contribution to the rediscovery of the lived experience of traditional religion in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, enabling a re-assessment of the role of Catholicism during the English Reformation. His work has impacted on:

(i) Public discourse. Duffy's research is debated in circles well beyond higher education institutions, as is evidenced by the wide variety of publications in which his books are reviewed, the BBC's frequent use of his expertise in debate, and the numerous and well attended public talks he has given;

(ii) Cultural life. Duffy's work has influenced TV documentaries, museum exhibitions, RSC productions and other aspects of cultural life;

(iii) Education. Duffy's work has influenced the teaching of history both within the UK and internationally.

Underpinning research

The underpinning research is Eamon Duffy's re-evaluation of religion in late medieval and early modern England. This research was carried out from the early 1990s to date, while Duffy was in post successively as Lecturer, Reader and, from 2002, Professor of the History of Christianity in the Faculty of Divinity in the University of Cambridge.

This work has made a major contribution to the rediscovery of the lived experience of traditional religion in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, enabling a re-assessment of the role of Catholicism during the English Reformation. Duffy's use of material culture has characterised this work and its original contribution to the field: this includes close examination of church architecture, of artefacts such as books of hours, and of the records of the construction, use and destruction of religious objects.

This research was first embodied in The Stripping of the Altars, published in 1992 with a substantially revised second edition in 2005. This was followed by four more books: The Voices of Morebath (2001), Marking the Hours (2006), Fires of Faith (2009) and Saints, Sacrilege and Sedition (2012). These form an unfolding body of research in which Duffy has developed his insights through microhistory (examining the impact of the Reformation in a particular English parish), through examining the readership and reception of late medieval personal devotional books, and through a major re-assessment of the reign of Mary I (1553-1558) and the reception of her religious policy. Other essays and articles supplemented these main research outputs.

Duffy's research has focussed on: (i) The now (following his lead) widely adopted concept of "traditional religion", that is, religious culture as rooted in shared and inherited beliefs and symbols. Within Duffy's research, this became a way of describing late medieval/early modern religion while avoiding misleading dichotomies between 'popular religion' and 'elite' religion; (ii) re-assessment of the relationship between the English and their Church on the eve of the Reformation. This has both demonstrated, and emphasised, the alertness of the institutional Church to the aspirations of members of society, and the level of engagement of parishioners with orthodox religion; (iii) carrying this insight forward, Duffy re-evaluated the response of Catholic leaders to the Reformation, in particular during the reign of Mary I and discovered their ability to harness the power of popular religious culture; (iv) achieving major historical re-interpretation through examination, both broad and deep, of the material culture of religion and the documentary records thereof, across all levels of society.

References to the research

1. Eamon Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional religion in England c.1400-1580 (New Haven CT & London, 1992; revised second edition, New Haven CT & London, 2005). Won the Longman-History Today Book of the Year Award.


2. Eamon Duffy, The Voices of Morebath: Reformation and rebellion in and English Village (New Haven CT & London, 2001). Won the 2002 Hawthornden Prize for literature; short- listed for the Samuel Johnson Prize; long-listed for the British Academy Book award

3. Eamon Duffy, Marking the Hours: English People and Their Prayers, 1240-1570 (New Haven CT & London, 2006)


4. Eamon Duffy, Fires of Faith: Catholic England under Mary Tudor (New Haven CT & London, 2009). Selected as an Outstanding Academic Title by Choice magazine, 2009


5. Eamon Duffy, Saints, Sacrilege and Sedition:religion and conflict in the Tudor Reformations (Bloomsbury, 2012)


All outputs can be supplied by the University of Cambridge on request.

Details of the impact

A. Impact on Public Discourse

Perceptions of the English Reformation have been transformed by Duffy's work in recent years, in circles well outside those of professional scholars and higher education institutions. Duffy's major published works have been reviewed not only in academic journals, but publications such as the London Review of Books (including a review of Fires of Faith by popular historical novelist Hilary Mantel, 24th September 2009), the Spectator (17th June 2009), the Tablet (29th May 2009) the BBC History magazine (10th August 2009), the Guardian (27th July 2012), the Independent (19th June 2009) the Daily Telegraph (14th June 2009) and the Belfast Telegraph (17th September 2010). Such exposure both testifies to and promotes wider engagement with Duffy's research. His work is also frequently cited in Church debates and discussion on the cultural and aesthetic impact of Christianity in British culture [1].

Duffy has given many public lectures on his research, frequently in association with major exhibitions and commemorative events. These include talks on: (i) "The Cardinal and the Queen: Restoring Catholic England under Mary Tudor" (Corpus Christ Church, New York, 17th November 2008). (ii) "The Cult of King Henry VI" (St George's Chapel, Windsor, 7th October 2009); (iii) "Praying with Images in the Middle Ages" (Norwich Cathedral, 6th May 2010); (iv) "King James Bible: Dead or Alive?" (the University of Bristol, 14th November 2011) (v) "Sacred Monarchy in Medieval England" (the British Library, 13th January 2012); (vi) "Latin for Lay People: Medieval Prayer Books" (Lambeth Palace, 10th May 2012); (vi) "Saints, Sacrilege & Sedition: Religion and Conflict in the Tudor Reformation" (the 12th Aldeburgh Literary Festival, 3rd March 2013). He has also been involved in a public debate ("From the World of the Reliquary to the King James Bible") at the British Museum (23rd September 2011). All of the above events were to capacity audiences of several hundred people.

B. Impact on Cultural Life

Duffy's successful promotion of the material culture of late-medieval religion has contributed to a new interest in this area at crucial contact-points between the public and historical scholarship. The Victoria & Albert Museum touring exhibition "Object of Devotion" showcased the Museum's collections of English alabaster devotional sculpture, in a dozen North American museums and galleries between December 2010 and September 2013 (as of 4th April 2013 c. 57,000 visitors had been to the exhibition [2]). Duffy's research had helped alert the public to the significance of these alabasters, and he was asked to contribute a chapter to the accompanying book, hailed by the Wall Street Journal (11th January 2012) as "deserv(ing) to become a popular reference book on this genre of Medieval art" [3].

Duffy's influence is also evident in the planning and execution of the University of York's interactive DVD-Rom, The English Parish Church through the Centuries, a heritage resource for clergy, colleges, schools and the general public. Its longest item is an eighteen minute video by Duffy, exploring the material culture of Ranworth Church in the Norfolk Broads: this video has circulated widely through official channels and independently on You-tube [e.g. 4].

The Voices of Morebath has also generated engagement from many different groups. In Morebath itself, where an English Heritage sign now marks the road to the village, the church visitors' book testifies to the hundreds of people prompted to visit after reading the book [5]. Programme 5 of the former cabinet minister Anne Widdicombe's 2009 Television series Christianity, a History illustrated the impact of the reformation on the people of rural England by focussing on Morebath, and featured an interview there with Duffy: similarly, programme 5 of the BBC 2 2012 series The Great British Story, a People's History, featured Morebath centrally in its reformation episode. A popular historian and TV presenter has stressed the importance of Duffy's work for other recent BBC TV series, In search of Shakespeare, and The Story of England, as well as A People's History, and notes that "in talking to the villagers about the story told in Voices of Morebath, it was clear that Professor Duffy's book had had an extraordinary impact on the community itself, and on the people's view of their shared past: a lovely example of how history can feed back into people's lives, firing their imaginations" [6].

Duffy's work has also had a significant impact on public perception of Tudor England in the field of drama and other performing arts. The RSC Shakespeare productions demonstrate a new awareness of religious culture in early modern England. Their 2010 production Romeo and Juliet featured a programme article by Duffy [7], relating English Protestant attitudes towards Catholicism to the imagery of Shakespeare's text. For the RSC's 2011 production of Macbeth, Duffy wrote a programme essay [8] on the impact of iconoclasm on Shakespeare's England. Each programme sold c. 25,000 copies [9]. In 2011, the RSC produced Written on the Heart, an original play by David Edgar, marking the quarto-centenary of the King James translation of the Bible. The entire cast read Duffy's Stripping of the Altars as part of their preparation for the play, and Duffy conducted a workshop for the actors on the impact of religious change and iconoclasm in Tudor England [10].

Duffy was also invited to provide the historical programme notes for the 2008 and 2010 choral tours of the well-known choir The Sixteen, and for the subsequent CDs, highlighting the historical and religious context of the sacred music they performed [e.g. 11]: he was one of the main speakers at the 2008 "insight day" for the general public organised by the Sixteen and of the National Centre for Early Music at the Royal Naval Hospital at Greenwich [12].

C. Impact on Education

Duffy's research has impacted significantly on history teaching in schools. The Stripping of the Altars is recommended by AQA as 'the best book for creating the picture of Catholic England'. Duffy's study of Morebath has been made the basis for a pioneering history syllabus designed for year 8 students in Cambridgeshire schools, and now being promoted by the department of Education at Cambridge University for use in schools nationally [13]. It is has also had international impact: the book is currently being used to introduce teachers of history there to the importance of micro-historical studies in the teaching of history as far afield as Kazakhstan [14].

Duffy's work on historic Catholic practices and beliefs has affected thinking about modern religious and pastoral practice, as shown for example by the invitation to him to be a keynote speaker at the study day on Death and Dying, organised for clergy, and laity (especially doctors and palliative care-workers) by the Centre for Catholic Studies at Durham University in March 2013 [15].

Sources to corroborate the impact

[1] E.g., The Church of Scotland's "Panel on Review and Reform" cited Duffy's work on Morebath to illustrate the point that "that this is not the first challenging time for the church, and that it is at the local level that national change is most deeply experienced." The book was among the resources listed and described on its webpage: http://www.churchofscotland.org.uk/resources/subjects/research_and_consultation

[2] Email from Person 1, Director and CEO, Art Services International.

[3] Wall Street Journal review: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203501304577088323051692932.html:

[4] http://www.christianity-culture.org/heritage

[5] Photocopied material from Morebath Church visitor's book

[6] Email from Person 3, Historian and Broadcaster.

[7] Eamon Duffy, 'Blaze a little more of this holy hell', in Royal Shakespeare Company, programme for Romeo and Juliet, 2010;

[8] Eamon Duffy, 'Bare Ruined Choirs' in Royal Shakespeare Company, programme for Macbeth 2011.

[9] Email from Person 4, Programmes Editor, Royal Shakespeare Company

[10] Testimonial from Person 2, Playwright

[11] Eamon Duffy, 'Splendour and Division', programme for 'Treasures of Tudor England: choral pilgrimage 2008', published by The Sixteen, 2008, p.10-14;

[12] http://www.ncem.co.uk/?idno=189&EventID=237&StyleID=1&thisMonth=4&thisDay=20&thisYe ar=2008&Window=Same

[13] AQA: GCE History Scheme of Work: HIS"B: The Church in England: the Struggle for Supremacy, 1529-1547 (copyright AQA 2008, for AS/A2 level specification from 2009-2010; current material on AQA website, Feb. 2012), pp. 1, 2, 7, 8: http://filestore.aqa.org.uk/subjects/AQA-HIS2B-W-MS-JUN12.PDF

[14] Email from Person 5, Head of History, Politics and Citizenship, Sawston Village College

[15] Programme and evaluation material, Durham Teaching Day on Death and Dying, March 9 2013