Meet Dr Zachary Purvis, ETS Lecturer in Scottish Church History

Dr Zachary Purvis from Portland, Oregon, joined the ETS staff team as Lecturer in Church History in Summer 2021.

Dr Zachary Purvis joined the ETS staff team as a Lecturer in Church History in Summer 2021. We asked Zack to tell us a little more about himself, his academic interests and how he has found his time at ETS so far.


I am from Portland, OR in the USA. As such, I am attached to the Pacific Northwest: the Mariners in baseball, the mountains, and all the rest. My wife Jessica and I have two children, Simon and Eleanor, and a third on the way. I enjoy teaching adult Sunday school and belong currently to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Prior to coming to Edinburgh, we have been something of an itinerant family, zigging and zagging here and there. 

I received an MA from Westminster Seminary California in 2011 and DPhil from the University of Oxford in 2014. I was a Fulbright Scholar in Basel, Switzerland (2012-13); Fellow of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) at the Ludwig-Maximilian University of Munich, Germany (2013); Fellow at the Leibniz-Institute for European History in Mainz, Germany (2014); Herzog Ernst/Fritz Thyssen Foundation Fellow at the Gotha Research Centre in Gotha/Erfurt, Germany (2015); Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at the University of Edinburgh (2015-18); Kingdon Fellow at the Institute for Research in the Humanities at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA (2018-19); and Humboldt Fellow at the University of Göttingen, Germany (2019-21). That’s the great thing about history: you never know where it will lead.

Academic Interests

My academic and research interests are broad: Patristic reception; cultural history of theology from the Renaissance onward; Reformation and early modern theology; modern European intellectual history; and ecclesiastical historiography generally. I am the author of Theology and the University in Nineteenth-Century Germany (Oxford University Press, 2016), which received the Best First Book Prize from the Ecclesiastical History Society, and co-editor of Transatlantic Religion: Europe, America, and the Making of Modern Christianity (Brill, 2021). My journal articles and essays have appeared in venues such as Journal of the History of Ideas, Journal of Ecclesiastical History, Church History, and Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte, as well as Modern Reformation. My book chapters have appeared in such venues as The Oxford Handbook of Nineteenth-Century Christian Thought, The Oxford Handbook of Friedrich Schleiermacher, The Oxford History of Modern German Theology, and the Oxford Encyclopedia of Martin Luther.

Teaching Church History at ETS

The first lesson I teach my students is that church history and historical theology serve the church by telling the truth about the past. Students should study church history at ETS because it is family history, but also because it plunges them directly into conversation with some of the richest and most profound thinkers, movements, and traditions. Theology never occurs in a vacuum. Careful attention to the past helps us understand the many contexts that have shaped the development of theology and church through the ages.

I thoroughly enjoy teaching both the survey church history course and more specialised reading/discussion seminars. In lectures and seminars, students work through rich primary source material and become adept at integrating cultural, social, and doctrinal history. They gain a deep understanding of how the history of the church has been told and written. They are welcomed into a vibrant community, challenged to read carefully and to write thoughtfully, given unique opportunities for more focused research, and connected with an extensive network of other scholars. 

Reflection on the First Term

It’s been a great delight to teach church history and to launch a new seminar series for our MTh programme in this first semester here. But the most rewarding part of being here has been getting to know our great students and interacting with them. Edinburgh Theological Seminary enjoys a vibrant community life, formally and informally, inside and outside of the classroom. My family and I have especially enjoyed contributing to that: from shared meals to park visits and more. We look forward to continuing to do so in the spring semester as well, learning and growing in the service of Christ and his church.

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