Torrance Kirby

Faculty of Religious Studies


Photo of Torrance Kirby

Professor of Ecclesiastical History

Fellow of the Royal Historical Society

Birks Building, [Map]
3520 rue University Montreal Quebec Canada
Montreal, Quebec
H3A 2A7


PHWR 301 Philosophy & West. Religions 2
PHWR 401 Honours Thesis Tutorial 1
RELG 322 The Church in History 1
RELG 323 The Church in History 2
RELG 423 Reformation Thought
RELG 621 Patristic Studies
RELG 622 Medieval Studies
RELG 624 Reformation Studies
RELG 626 Reformation:Secular Dimensions
RELG 645 Methods in Religious Studies
RELG 682 Res: Hist of Christianity

BA Dalhousie University (King's College), Classics
MA Dalhousie University, Classics
DPhil Oxford University (Christ Church), Modern History

Curriculum vitae

Biographical sketch

In 1988 I received a DPhil degree in Modern History from Oxford University for a thesis on the political theology of Richard Hooker. Previously I received BA and MA degrees in Classics (Greek Philosophy and Literature) from King's College and Dalhousie University. Currently I am Professor of Ecclesiastical History at McGill where I have been a member of the Faculty of Religious Studies since 1997. Since 1996 I have been a member of the Centre of Theological Inquiry, Princeton, and since 2005 of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.

Primary research interests

My principal field of research is Reformation thought, especially of Richard Hooker, Peter Martyr Vermigli, Heinrich Bullinger, and other 16th-century Protestant thinkers; my most recent publications examine theological links between England and the continent in the sixteenth century (my work here concentrates on the influence in England of the Italian, Swiss and French reformers). My research also focuses on the history of Christian Platonism, in the Patristic as well as in the late-medieval and early-modern periods. Currently I am investigating the emergence of the public sphere in early-modern England in the context of preaching at the outdoor pulpit at Paul's Cross in the City of London.

Recent publications

In August 2012 the Centre for Research on Religion sponsored an International Conference on the theme 'Paul's Cross and the Culture of Persuasion in England, 1520-1640'. The proceedings were published by Brill in January 2014. In 2013 my monograph Persuasion and Conversion: Religion, Politics, and the Public Sphere was also published. Another recent monograph titled The Zurich Connection and Tudor Political Theology (2007) is a study of the political thought of Peter Martyr Vermigli and Heinrich Bullinger and its influence on the construction and consolidation of the Elizabethan religious and political settlement. A Companion to Peter Martyr Vermigli (2009), jointly edited with Emidio Campi (Zurich) and Frank James (Boston), comprises 25 essays focussed on the distinctive hermeneutics of this remarkable Florentine scholar and religious reformer. I have published several books on the thought of Richard Hooker, including A Companion to Richard Hooker (2008), Richard Hooker, Reformer and Platonist (2005), Richard Hooker and the English Reformation (2003), as well as articles on various aspects of Reformation thought including pieces on Vermigli, John Calvin, Heinrich Bullinger, and Antoine de Marcourt.

Grants and fellowships

Since June 2011 I have been collaborating with colleagues Paul Yachnin and Angela Van Haelen (McGill), Peter Marshall (Warwick), Mark Vessey (UBC), Bronwen Wilson (U East Anglia), and Douglas Hedley (Cantab) in a research project funded by a SSHRC Insight Development (2011-13) and, since 2013, a SSHRC Partnership Grant (2013-18): “Early Modern Conversions: religions, cultures, cognitive ecologies". During my sabbatical term in the winter 2015 I was a Fellow of the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH) at the University of Cambridge, and a Visiting Fellow of Corpus Christi College. I will return to Corpus Christi in the Lent Term 2016 during the second half of my leave. In June/July of 2012 I was a Visiting Scholar in residence at the American Academy in Rome. In the summer term 2011 I took up a Visiting Fellowship at New College, University of Edinburgh. During the summer term 2009 I was a Visiting Fellow at the Centre for Advanced Research in Religious and Theological Studies (CARTS) at the University of Cambridge where I continued my current research project on 'Paul's Cross and the culture of persuasion: Tudor origins of the early-modern public sphere'. This project is funded by a 3-year Standard Research Grant awarded by SSHRC in April 2009. I spent sabbatical terms in 2007 as a Research Associate at St John’s College, Oxford, and in 2005 as a Visiting Fellow at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. Over the past decade I have received several major research grants: a resident fellowship at the Princeton Centre of Theological Inquiry (1996-97), fellowship of the Folger Shakespeare Library (2001), SSHRC (Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada) standard research grant (2003-2006) to conduct research on the links between the Reformations in Zurich and England; SSHRC and FQRSC (Le Fonds québécois de la recherche sur la société et la culture) fellowships (2004-2006) to study the French Zwinglian publications of Pierre de Vingle of Neuchâtel in the period 1533-35; a SSHRC Workshop Grant (2007) for an international conference on 'The new hermeneutics of Peter Martyr Vermigli (1499-1562): exegesis and theology'; and I am a collaborator with a group of 30 scholars in a Major Collaborative Research Initiative (MCRI) grant (2005-2010) awarded by SSHRC for the study of the early-modern public sphere. Please visit our 'web-public' at

Current research

My current research focuses on the Early Modern Conversions project. My main angle here is in the epistemological conversion associated chiefly with late-15th century Neoplatonist illuminationism in general and with Erasmus's contribution in particular. My recent research addressed open-air pulpit situated in the precincts of St Paul’s Cathedral, London, commonly known as ‘Paul’s Cross’, one of the most influential of all public venues in early-modern England. Throughout the 16th century sermons preached at Paul’s Cross addressed critically important hermeneutical and theological as well as political assumptions, and they contributed decisively to the transformation of England’s religious and political identities. The key aim of this 'post-revisionist' investigation is to interweave questions related to 1) the radical reconstruction of ‘religious identity’ in Tudor England; 2) the conspicuous expansion of a popular ‘culture of persuasion’ as the principal means of this reconstruction; and 3) the consequent emergence from this process of an early-modern ‘public sphere’—all considered within the context of public preaching at Paul’s Cross during the decisive period ca. 1520-1620. The research team includes John N. King (Ohio State University), Mary Morrissey (University of Reading), and Paul Stanwood (University of British Columbia). The Paul's Cross project is funded by a 3-year Standard Research Grant awarded by SSHRC in 2009. In July 2010 we presented a panel of papers at meeting of the International Association of University Professors of English in Valletta, Malta.

Collaboration with the University of Zurich

In 2008 the Faculty of Religious Studies and the Centre for Research on Religion negotiated a formal 'Memorandum of Agreement' with the University of Zurich, Institut für Schweizerische Reformations-geschichte, to promote academic cooperation for the following: A. The development of common research projects; B. The exchange of scholars and undergraduate and graduate students, where possible and appropriate; C. The exchange of research publications; D. The use of university resources (i.e. access to university libraries, computing facilities, etc.) for scholars in residence; E. The holding of joint academic conferences. Owing to this agreement Prof. Dr. Dr. Emidio Campi, formerly Director of the Institut and Professor of Church History at the University of Zurich, was recently a Visiting Fellow at the McGill Centre for Research on Religion (see below) in the Fall Term 2010.

Editorial boards

Member of the Editorial Board of the Reformation and Renaissance Review: Journal of the Society for Reformation Studies (UK). Member of the board of editors of Renaissance and Reformation/Renaissance et Réforme: Journal of the Canadian Society for Renaissance Studies, Pacific Northwest Renaissance Society, Toronto Renaissance and Reformation Colloquium, and Victoria University Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies. Member of the Editorial Advisory Council of 'Dionysius'. This journal of Dalhousie University's Department of Classics publishes articles on the history of ancient philosophy and theology, including Patristic theology, and their nachleben with special emphasis upon the Aristotelian and Neoplatonic traditions. I also serve as one of the general editors of the Peter Martyr Library (Second Series), a 24-volume edition of the Latin works of this influential Florentine reformer in English translation. So far nine volumes have been published. In addition I am a member of the Editorial Board of The Works of Martin Bucer, gen. eds. Amy Burnett and Ian Hazlett and I have advised the editors of the Corpus Christianorum series Concilium Oecumenicorum Generalium Decreta, vol. V (16th century).

Graduate supervision

Since my appointment at McGill I have supervised more than 30 doctoral and MA theses on a variety of topics in ecclesiastical history and Christian intellectual history. 25 of these have successfully passed examination (12 PhDs and 13 MAs) with 5 PhDs and 1 MAs currently in various stages of completion.

Committees and administration

I recently served as Interim Director of the McGill “Philosophy and Western Religions” BA programme in the Faculty of Arts, a joint undertaking of the Islamic Institute, the Philosophy Dept, Jewish Studies Dept, and the Faculty of Religious Studies—see On the administrative side I have served as a member of Senate and as a member of various University and Faculty committees including the Vice-Principal's Research Advisory Committee, the Academic Priorities and Planning sub-committee on Teaching and Learning, University Tenure Committee, Committee on Student Affairs, Rhodes Scholarship Selection Committee, Graduate Studies Committee, and Bachelor of Theology Committee.

Center for Research on Religion (CREOR)

In November 2008 I was appointed Director of the McGill Centre for Research on Religion (CREOR). Further information concerning the goals and activities of the Centre may be obtained at the Centre's website The CREOR lecture series for the Fall Term 2012 is titled "Conversion and Modernity." For more details of this and other series, as well as for video podcasts of CREOR lectures please visit The Fall series 2011, co-sponsored by the Montreal Neurological Institute, addressed the theme "Neuro-theology for the 21st Century: Religion and the Brain." As Director of the Centre I co-hosted a conference in Istanbul in December 2010 with colleagues Professors Rahim Acer and Bilal Bas of Marmara University on the theme "Philosophy and the Abrahamic Religions: scriptural authority and theories of knowledge" (


In 2011 I was elected a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society of the United Kingdom. Smith College, Northampton, Mass., recently invited me to take up the Ruth and Clarence Kennedy Professorship in Renaissance Studies, a visiting appointment, during the Fall Term of 2013.