Dr Leif Dixon



Dr Leif Dixon

Supernumerary Fellow and Director of Studies in History

I was an undergraduate at the University of Sussex, gained my PhD at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, and was subsequently awarded a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship at St Catharine’s College, Cambridge.  However, I have spent the majority of my professional career in Oxford, where I have been a lecturer at a number of different colleges, including Oriel, Brasenose, St John’s, Lincoln, and Christ Church.  But of all the places I have worked, Regent’s Park excites me particularly, and we have made huge strides since I arrived here in 2013.

I am the Director of Studies for History and for our numerous History Joint Schools.  My job is to ensure that my students receive the best education possible during their three-year degree.  I use my extensive contacts across the University to arrange the best tuition possible, while also ensuring that our ‘in house’ teaching provision is top notch.  I am also the first port of call for students when they are having difficulties, whether these are academic or pastoral.  Teaching is my great passion, and I was deeply honoured to win the Oxford University Student Union’s award for ‘Outstanding Tutor in the Humanities’ in 2016, which was based on nominations by students:

OUSU Awards

The bulk of my teaching is in early modern British and European history, between around 1400 and 1700, and I also teach a specialist paper on Witchcraft.  For the Approaches to History paper, I teach the Sociology and Gender strands.

I am passionate about providing high quality teaching, and about providing my students with an intellectually stimulating education within a supportive environment.  My life experience has been rather varied, and I do not come from a traditional elite educational background (my secondary school in Suffolk actually had statistically the worst GCSE results in the county!) and this, combined with my significant experience of Oxford, allows me to connect with students from a wide array of social and educational circumstances.  I always welcome applications from young people who have a passion for the study of History and an independent mind, even if – indeed, especially if – they do not think that Oxford is for people ‘like them.’  The historians at Regent’s Park come from a tremendous range of backgrounds, and many attended schools that have little or no track record of sending their pupils to elite universities.

My research interests lie in the religious ideas and culture of the English Reformation.  My doctoral work and the subject of my first book, focussed on the relationship between the theology of English Calvinism and the social and pastoral contexts in which it functioned, between around 1590 and 1640.  I was particularly interested in how the doctrine of predestination – the idea that God chooses who will go to heaven and hell before the world was even created – was communicated to everyday Protestants through printed sermons and other forms of accessible literature.  Why was this doctrine so central to early modern Calvinist belief?  Indeed, why did so many preachers regard predestination as a ‘comforting’ idea, and what in turn can that tell us about the wider worldview and anxieties of people living in the period?  More recently, my research has come to focus on the subject of atheism in the early modern period.  I am interested less in whether ‘real’ atheists existed (people who did not believe in God tended to keep this opinion secret), and more in why religious people became increasingly anxious about the danger of atheism.  It’s an interesting cultural puzzle – why did people become more and more worried about something which did not seem to exist, or at least for which there was no evidence?  Here, I am particularly interested in the unintended consequences of the Protestant Reformation, and the ways in which it destabilised religious identities, and may even have inadvertently created cynicism about the competition between rival and exclusivist religious visions.  In other words, I am looking at atheism through the lens of religious belief, and seeking to challenge the common assumption that it was the ‘rise of science’ which resulted in the more secular society with which we are familiar today.



‘England’s “Atheisticall Generation”: Orthodoxy and Unbelief in the Revolutionary Period’, in G. Southcombe and G. Tapsell, eds, Revolutionary England, c. 1630-c. 1660: Essays for Clive Holmes (Routledge, forthcoming, 2016)


Practical Predestinarians in England, 1590-1640 (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2014)


‘William Perkins, ‘Atheisme’, and the Crises of England’s Long Reformation’, Journal of British Studies, 50.4 (2011), pp. 790-812


‘Richard Greenham and the Calvinist Construction of God’, Journal of Ecclesiastical History , 61.4 (2010), pp. 729-745


Review article of The Cambridge Companion to Puritanism, English Historical Review, 125.514 (2010), p. 702


‘Calvinist Theology and Pastoral Reality in the Reign of King James I: the Perspective of Thomas Wilson’, The Seventeenth Century Journal, 23.2 (2008), pp. 173-197