Blake Lectures

‌The lecture honors William E. and Miriam S. Blake and is presented annually by a renowned scholar. The lecture is supported by an endowed fund established by family, friends, colleagues,and those who enjoyed the History of Christianity course which Professor Blake initiated at VCU. 2018 marks the 25th anniversary of this lecture series.

On February 27, 2019 we will welcome Roy Robson from Penn State. His lecture is titled, "The Art of Pimen Sofronov: Ancient Iconography is a Completely New Thing."

The 2018 lecture was held on April 4, 2018 at 7:30 PM in the VCU Cabell Library, Room 303. Our guest speaker was Susan Karant-Nunn, PhD, Regents' Professor of History at the University of Arizona. Professor Karant-Nunn is a scholar of the social and cultural history of early modern Europe (1400-1800), with emphasis on the German-speaking lands during the Reformation. Her lecture was titled: Reformation and the Individual.

For more information, please contact Dr. George Munro ( or 804 828-2211). Dr. Andrew Crislip ( or 804-828-0155), the History Department's Blake Chair in the History of Christianity is on research leave in the academic year 2019.


Bill and Miriam Blake

Blake photo


The 2017 lecture was held on April 20th at the James Branch Cabell Library lecture hall, Room 303, 7:00 PM. The speaker was Dr. Nancy Mandeville Caciola, Professor of History from the University of San Diego, where she is the Director of UCSD's program for the study of religion. Her lecture title was: Ghosts and the Conversion of Europe.

Preoccupation with the dead and their fate, their potential return and their placation, their power to help and to harm, was a characteristic feature of postmillennial medieval society. Though stories about the returned dead often derived from indigenous European pagan religions, Christian clerics nevertheless preserved these tales with great enthusiasm. Indeed, it is fair to say that Church doctrine permitted, even fostered, a great deal of latitude when it came to the macabre imaginary. Unlike many other areas of belief or conduct, Rome did not try to regulate the dead very vigorously. It is striking that almost no beliefs relating to the dead were defined as heretical, for instance. Thus, beliefs about the dead and various afterlives occupied a capacious middle ground of toleration without endorsement. “Ghosts and the Conversion of Europe” inquires into the ubiquity of medieval ghost stories, exploring the paradox of why tales of thisworldly encounters with the dead were so endemic to a culture with a decidedly other worldly religious focus.

The 2016 lecture was given by Dr. Terryl Givens (University of Richmond) on April 6th at 7:30 PM in the Grace Street Theater. The title of the lecture was "Constructing Mormonism: Vipers and Heroes  in the American Religious Saga."

In the 19th century, American fears of a burgeoning Mormonism that was radically novel in its beliefs and practices coincided with Mormon desires to exhibit their own exceptionalism and chosen status. The collective result was the construction of a quasi-ethnicity that served the ends of both parties well - until developments of the early 21st century complicated the politics of Mormon identity.

The 22nd (2015) lecture was given by Dr. Kate Cooper (University of Manchester UK). Her talk was based on research for her most recent book, "Band of Angels: The Forgotten Worlds of Early Christian Women" (Atlantic, 2013). April 1, 2015, Grace Street Theater, 932 W. Grace Street, 7:30 p.m. Free admission.

Kate Cooper is Professor of Ancient History in the University of Manchester. She writes and teaches about the world of the Mediterranean in the Roman period, with a special interest in daily life and the family, religion and gender, and the fall of the Roman Empire. She is the author of several books and many scholarly articles, including "Band of Angels: The Forgotten World of Early Chrisitan Women" published by Atlantic Books/Overlook Press in 2013. Her previous books include "The Virgin and the Bride" (Harvard) and "The Fall of the Roman Household" (Cambridge). Her scholarly blog,, covers the confluence of historical scholarship and current events relating to Christianity, gender, religion, and violence, ancient and modern.

The 21st Annual William E. & Miriam S. Blake Lecture was given by Elizabeth A. Clark, Ph.D.
 on Thursday, April 10, 2014, 7:30 PM at the Grace Street Theater.

Elizabeth A. Clark  received her B.A. from Vassar College in 1960, and her M.A. and Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1962 and 1965, respectively. In addition, she received an S.T.D., honoris causa, from the Univeristy of Uppsala in 2001. Professor Clark joined the faculty of the Mary Washington College of the University of Virginia in 1964, founding its Department of Religion and eventually serving as its chairperson. She remained there until 1982 when, after spending the spring semester as a visiting professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, she joined the Duke faculty as a professor in the Department of Religion. She currently holds dual appointments at Duke: John Carlisle Kilgo Professor of Religion and Professor of History.

Professor Clark specializes in the field of Christianity, and she is widely credited with having a transforming influence on its study.

We were pleased to host Carlos M. N. Eire, Ph.D., the T. Lawrason Riggs Professor of History and Religious Studies at Yale University, who gave the 2013 lecture entitled, "Redefining the Sacred: Protestantism and the Birth of Modernity." Download the 20th Annual Blake Lecture Flier.

In 1962, Carlos Eire was one of 14,000 children airlifted out of Cuba during the CIA's Operation Peter Pan - exiled from his family, his country, and his own childhood by the revolution. Seventeen years later, in 1979, Carlos Eire received his PhD from Yale. He specializes in the social, intellectual, religious, and cultural history of late medieval and early modern Europe, with a strong focus on both the Protestant and Catholic Reformations; the history of popular piety; and the history of death.

A past president of the Society for Reformation Research, Eire is currently on the editorial board of the journal "Church History" and the publications committee of Yale University Press. He is now writing a survey history of the Reformation era and researching attitudes toward miracles in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. His courses range widely in subject, but tend to focus on early modern Europe and on religious history.

 The 2012 lecture was given by Wallace Daniel, Ph.D., Provost, Mercer University

"Saintly Martyr or Religious Heretic? Alexander Men and the Russian Orthodox Church" February 23, 2012
Dr. Daniel is a prominent historian specializing in early modern and contemporary Russian and European history. Prior to joining Mercer, he completed a 30-plus year career at Baylor University, where he recently served as the Ralph L. and Bessie Lynn Professor of History and editor of the Journal of Church and State. Daniel's publications include "The Orthodox Church and Civil Society in Russia"; "Perspectives on Church-State Relations in Russia"; and "Father Alexander Men and the Struggle to Recover Russia's Heritage" in Demokratizatsiya: The Journal of Post-Soviet Democratization.

The 2011 lecture was given by David Brakke, Ph.D., Professor and Chair, Religious Studies, Indiana University, Bloomington.

"Why the Early Church Did Not Reject Gnosticism"  March 31, 2011
Dr. Brakke is Professor and Chair in the Department of Religious Studies at Indiana University. Dr. Brakke is the author of several ground-breaking books in the history of ancient Christianity, including "Demons and the Making of the Monk, Athanasius and the Politics of Asceticism", "Talking Back: A Monastic Handbook for Combating Demons", and "The Gnostics", published in November 2010 by Harvard University Press, the basis for the Blake Lecture. He is Editor of the Journal of Early Christian Studies.


Other speakers coordinated by the Blake program included:

John Plotz, Professor of English, Brandeis University
"Before there was Facebook: The Long History of Distraction and Absorption"
Thursday, November 1, 2012

Barbara Rosenwein, Loyola University Chicago
"Emotions and Change in History"
Friday, April 1, 2011

Paul Blowers, Emmanuel School of Religion
"Between Revulsion and Empathy: The Reinvention of Tragic Pity in Christian Responses to the Poor and the Diseased in Late Antiquity"
Thursday, February 24, 2011

Emma Wasserman, Rutgers University
Evil Everywhere? Demons, Spirits, and Powers in the Letters of Paul
Thursday, October 28, 2010

Kevin Wilkinson, Yale University
"New Palladas and Constantine the Great: A Recently Recovered Pagan Poet
on Religion and Politics in the Later Roman Empire"
Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Previous lecturers:

2010: Dr. Diane Apostolos-Cappadona

2009: Dr. Andrew Crislip

2008: Dr. Barbara MacHaffie

2007: Dr. Dale Hoak

2006: Dr. Christine Heyrman

2005: Dr. Bart Ehran

2004: Dr. Richard Harrison Jr.

2003: Dr. William E. Blake

2002: Dr. John P. Meier

2001: Dr. Jonathan Zophy

2000: Dr. James Smylie

1999: Dr. Edwin Gaustad

1998: Dr. E. Ann Matter

1997: Dr. Paul Maier

1996: Dr. Samuel Hill

1995: Dr. Charles Curran

1994: Dr. Martin Marty