Church history tutor knighted

Diarmaid MacCulloch, Oxford’s Professor of the History of the Church, has received a knighthood in recognition of his services to scholarship.

Professor MacCulloch is widely regarded within the academic community as a leading scholar on issues within Reformation Theology. His publication, “Reformation: Europe’s House Divided 1490-1700” has been a necessary textbook for Church Historians since its publication in 2003. More recently the academic has become best known for his successful BBC series “A History of Christianity” and its accompanying book of the same name. This text won MacCulloch McGill University’s Cundill Prize, the largest history book prize in the world.

MacCulloch told the BBC that he was “extremely honoured, flattered and delighted,” that he had been chosen for such an honour. He emphasised that he saw the award as not just for him but in recognition of the immense importance of arts subjects, commenting, “They are the sanity of our society. Without them we wouldn’t have memory and we wouldn’t know how to look at the future properly.” MacCulloch emphasised this again in his comments to Cherwell, stating, “These are not easy times for any university and it’s good that the country gives what we do some credit.”

MacCulloch also described the process of receiving such an honour, “It was quick a shock when the quiet initial sounding out came, approximately a year ago. After that, all is silence until a brown envelope arrives from Downing Street requiring the answer yes or no, and the next you hear is when the press start ringing. The investiture, I guess, will be sometime this winter.” When asked if it had been difficult keeping the news to himself, MacCulloch replied, “As for secrecy, you get used to discretion in university politics.”

Fellow Church History tutor and lecturer the Revd Dr Andrew Teal told Cherwell that he was “thrilled” and that the knighthood was “great news.” He commented, “I’m delighted, not only for Professor MacCulloch, but for Theology in general, and Church History in particular. Diarmaid and I were both students at Ripon College, Cuddesdon together, and he was pretty obviously an enormously gifted historian with a genius for communicating clearly, originally and creatively.” He described MacCulloch’s work as “an adventurous commitment to understanding the development of doctrine and the Church.”

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Teal went on, “His capacity to communicate has become increasingly evident through his block-busting book and brilliant BBC television series on the history of the Church. He has brought a nuanced, interesting and witty take on a vast variety of subjects, maintaining interesting trajectories without collapsing diversity or imposing anachronistic uniformity.”

The award came within the New Year’s Honours List, and was described by the Guardian as “something of a rebuke to the Church of England.” MacCulloch’s original intention was to be ordained into the church but he turned towards an academic career in reaction to the Church’s attitude towards gay people.

MacCulloch is a fellow of St Cross College.