Religion

The following modules are available to incoming Study Abroad students interested in Religion.

Alternatively you may return to the complete list of Study Abroad Subject Areas.

ENGL330: Literature and Religion at the Fin de Siecle

  • Terms Taught: Michaelmas Term only
  • US Credits: 4 Semester credits
  • ECTS Credits: 8 ECTS credits
  • Pre-requisites:
    • Must have significant previous studies in English Literature
    • This is a strict quota courses, and there will be only a limited number of places (if any) available to visiting students

Course Description

Course Aims and Objectives:

 

Despite the commonplace idea that God had died by the end of the nineteenth century, religion remained very much in evidence at the fin de siècle. This is apparent in the literature produced in the period, and the module will examine a range of the writers who wrote about religion. Along the way, we will consider questions such as: the reasons for the return to religion among writers at the fin de siècle (c. 1880-1914); the debates raised by religious pluralism in the period; the experimental investigations into the relation of form to faith; and the broader questions of how literature mediates and speaks to the relationship between religion and the secular in the modern period.

Educational Aims

On successful completion of this module students will be able to demonstrate:

  • Explore the relationship between religion and literature in the late nineteenth century
  • Enhance awareness of the different types of literature written during the fin de siècle
  • Enhance understanding of religious debates and beliefs in the period
  • Better understand how literary form mediates and intervenes in questions of faith
  • Reflect on the place of religion in modernity (e.g. debates around secularism, blasphemy, and religious experience)

Outline Syllabus

Set Texts:

Week 1: (Selections from) Decadent Poetry from Wilde to Naidu

Week 2: (Selections from) William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience

Week 3: Oscar Wilde, Salome (Broadview Press edition)

Week 4: Oscar Wilde, De Profundis (Selections from)

Week 5: Thomas Hardy, Jude the Obscure

Week 6: Essay Preparation Week (Research and Planning)

Week 7: Michael Field, Selected Poetry (Broadview Press edition)

Week 8: Bram Stoker, Dracula

Week 9: G. K. Chesterton, The Man who was Thursday: A Nightmare

Week 10: Alice Meynell, selected poetry and prose essays (available via Moodle)

Assessment Proportions

  • Coursework: 100%

EPR.100: Ethics, Philosophy and Religion

  • Terms Taught: Full Year course.
  • Also Available:
    • Michaelmas term only
    • Lent / Summer term only.
    • NOTE:  If you are studying with us for a Full Academic Year and you select a course that has full year and part year variants, you will not be allowed to take only part of the course.
  • US Credits:
    • Full Year course - 10 Semester Credits.
    • Michaelmas Term only - 5 Semester Credits.
    • Lent / Summer Terms only - 5 Semester Credits.
  • ECTS Credits:
    • Full Year course - 20 ECTS Credits.
    • Michaelmas Term only - 10 ECTS Credits.
    • Lent / Summer Terms only - 10 ECTS Credits.

Course Description

The course provides an introduction to key areas at the intersection of ethics, philosophy and religious studies. Historically and practically these areas of enquiry have often been closely related and, even today, we can appreciate that there are areas of life and experience  such as in global politics, the technological advances all around us, and in our own ethical decisions  where an understanding of the philosophical and religious foundations of ethics has profound relevance and significance.

The course is divided into five main areas. They will provide a range of core themes and perspectives including western and Asian philosophical and religious ethics and the authorities upon which ethical standpoints are grounded.

Educational Aims

On successful completion of this course, you will have acquired a comprehensive range of skills that can only be obtained in an interdisciplinary course of this kind. You should be able to:

  • Identify, describe and discuss key philosophical debates and key figures in western philosophical and theological traditions (chiefly Judeo-Christian, Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment)
  • Identify, describe and discuss key ethical debates and key figures in eastern philosophical traditions (chiefly Hindu and Buddhist)
  • Engage in and exemplify philosophical reasoning in relation to a range ofphilosophical and ethical issues and debates covered in the course
  • Recognise, analyse, and critically evaluate a range of philosophical conceptions of the divine and accounts of how the divine may be known
  • Recognise, analyse, and critically evaluate a range of philosophical critiques of various conceptions of the divine and accounts of how the divine may be known
  • Compare and critically evaluate different ethical and philosophical approaches from different religious or cultural traditions - to the same or related topics

Outline Syllabus

In Michaelmas term, the course begins with an exploration of the different conceptions of God at the intersection between philosophy and religion. In particular, it examines some of the very different conceptions of God that have existed in the history of the western Christian tradition. It explores the ways in which these different conceptions have been produced by contrasting philosophical methodologies and variegated understandings of the ways in which philosophy should relate to religion. The section attempts to show how intertwined are philosophy and religion, and to explore the ways in which philosophy impacts upon understandings of God within religion itself.

In the second half of the term, we consider the foundational aspects of Ethics and the conceptual understanding of morality with special reference to the western philosophical tradition. Building upon this foundation, we will explore the interconnected nature of ethical precepts and how the Christian tradition developed its ethical framework with reference to Jesus of Nazareth. Finally this section will also touch upon the global nature of Christianity and consequent ethical implications.

In the Lent term, the course moves on to look at the relationships between science and religion. There is much debate on the question of whether religion and science can peacefully co-exist, or are intrinsically antagonistic. We will first look at two major episodes in the history of science that are often regarded as occasions of conflict between religion and science: the Scientific Revolution in the 17th century, and the emergence of Darwinism in the 19th. Then we will consider scientific theories of the origins of religion and whether they have any implications for religious belief. Finally in this section, we will look at some recent thinkers who think that science and religion are intrinsically antagonistic, and some who think they are not.5

In the second half of the Lent term, we will examine the general themes of the course specifically within the context of two Asian religious and philosophical traditions: Hinduism and Buddhism. We will examine teachings on the Self, teachings on Not-self, Hindu conceptions of God and ethics, and Wisdom and Compassion in Mahayana Buddhism. Finally, we will look at two modern thinkers  Mohandas Gandhi and the Dalai Lama  who have posed challenges to Western modernity from Hindu and Buddhist perspectives.

Assessment Proportions

  • Coursework: 50%
  • Exam: 50%

PPR.239: Indian Politics, Society and Religion

  • Terms Taught: Full Year course.
  • Also Available:
    • Michaelmas Term only.
    • Lent / Summer Term only.
    • NOTE:  If you are studying with us for a Full Academic Year and you select a course that has full year and part year variants, you will not be allowed to take only part of the course.
  • US Credits:
    • Full Year course - 8 Semester Credits.
    • Michaelmas Term only - 4 Semester Credits.
    • Lent / Summer Terms only - 4 Semester Credits.
  • ECTS Credits:
    • Full Year course - 16 ECTS Credits.
    • Michaelmas Term only - 8 ECTS Credits.
    • Lent / Summer Terms only - 8 ECTS Credits.
  • Pre-requisites: At least one entry-level course in politics.

Course Description

This course aims to introduce and familiarise you to the interplay between politics, society and religion in the world’s largest democracy, India. At a time when India is emerging as a global power and economic powerhouse despite persistent poverty and various socio-political fissures, a critical balance must be struck in our understanding between its potential and its problems. India offers powerful lessons on the challenges and achievements of democracy in a deeply pluralistic and unequal society. An examination of these issues opens up our conceptual preconceptions about democracy, religion, secularism, discrimination, globalization and political mobilization, which tend to be structured by knowledge of Western polities. The particular issues concerning large populations of many different religions and huge social differences offer pathways of understanding to many pressing global issues.

Educational Aims

This course aims to provide students with knowledge of the complex political and social realities of India, in the particular context of its religious and social diversity.

The module as a whole will help students engage with questions about the political features of Indian democracy and society, especially in the context of the complex forces of public religion and caste dynamics. In what way is India a unique experiment in democracy? What are the challenges, both traditional and modern that face such a democracy, especially one that has high levels of inequality, and a constant battle between discrimination and justice towards its array of minorities? What is a minority and what is a majority in India, and what implications does this have for other societies, including Western ones?

Outline Syllabus

This course aims to introduce and familiarise students to the interplay between politics, society and religion in the world’s largest democracy, India. At a time when India is emerging as a global power and economic powerhouse despite persistent poverty and various socio-political fissures, a critical balance must be struck in our understanding between its potential and its problems. India offers powerful lessons on the challenges and achievements of democracy in a deeply pluralistic and unequal society. An examination of these issues opens up our conceptual preconceptions about democracy, religion, secularism, discrimination, globalization  and political mobilization, which tend to be structured by knowledge of Western polities. The particular issues concerning large populations of many different religions and huge social differences offer pathways of understanding to many pressing global issues.

The main themes in Michaelmas Term will come under the heading of ‘Democracy, Religion and Social Change’, will involve i. democracy in theory and practice in a pluralistic and diverse nation-state; ii. secularism in a deeply religiously plural and ancient society influenced by the West but with a different history; iii. gender and feminism in Indian politics and public religion; and iv. the impact of globalization on media, religion and politics. Lent Term will be on ‘Religious Minorities, Caste Politics and Dalits in India’, and cover i. the general question of religious minorities; ii. Indian Muslims; iii. Indian Christians; iv. the politics of religious conversion; v. and the politics of caste, in particular of Dalits and their relationship to Christianity.

Assessment Proportions

  • Coursework: 40%
  • Exam: 60%

PPR.250: Christianity in the Modern World: Traditions and Transformations

  • Terms Taught: Lent Term only.
  • US Credits: 4 semester credits
  • ECTS Credits: 8 ECTS
  • Pre-requisites: At least one entry-level course in religion.

Course Description

The module aims to survey and critically examine the main themes, key concepts, debates and approaches to the study of Christianity and theological change in the modern world.  Students will develop an analytical and interpretative framework within which to situate competing Christian traditions and theologies in a historical context.

Educational Aims

On successful completion of this module students will be able to:

  • Demonstrate a systematic understanding and critical awareness of established debates, theoretical literature and emerging insights in respect of the modern history of Christianity;
  • Evidence an understanding and critical evaluation of developments and debates within Christian theology and history;
  • Critically analyse developments in Christianity in relation to changing social and cultural contexts;
  • Apply various theoretical frameworks and critical tools in order to understand, explain and analyse developments in the field.

Outline Syllabus

Topics studied will typically include:

  • Introduction: The Basics
  • Roman Catholicism
  • Protestantism
  • Eastern Orthodoxy
  • Mystical Christianity and Quakerism
  • Key issues in modern Christian theology
  • Biblical criticism
  • Science and faith
  • Gender and Sexuality  
  • Religious Pluralism and Interfaith Dialogue
  • Postcolonial Christianity
  • Political and Liberation Theologies

Assessment Proportions

  • Coursework: 40%
  • Exam: 60%

PPR.251: Islam: Tradition, Community and Contemporary Challenges

  • Terms Taught: Lent / Summer Terms only
  • US Credits: 4 semester credits
  • ECTS Credits: 8 ECTS
  • Pre-requisites: At least one entry-level course in religion.

Course Description

This module examines the historical formation of Islam; its renewal movements past and present; and modern reform discourses on gender, politics, and law. The aim is to grain an understanding of continuities and discontinuities in the Islamic tradition in relation to religious authority, theology, politics and contemporary practice. Some of the topics studied include: the formation of Shari'a (Islamic law); competing Sunni and Shi'i orthodoxies; the rise of radical political movements and global Jihad; Islamic feminisms; Islam and the West; and Islam in Britain. The module offers a strong foundation for more specialised study in second and third year courses.

Educational Aims

The module aims to:

  • Survey and critically examine the main themes, key concepts, debates and approaches to the study of Islam in the modern world.
  • Develop an analytical and interpretative framework within which to situate modern Muslim discourses on tradition and reform in a historical context.

Outline Syllabus

Topics studied will typically include:

  • The Prophet: Muhammad as messenger, leader and exemplar
  •  Revelation: The Quran as event, text and doctrine
  •  The Community : Caliphate, Sunni orthodoxy and alternative visions
  • The Juristic Tradition: Jurisprudence, sharia and normative islam
  • Key issues in modern Islam:
  • Islamic Reform: Early reform, the challenges of modernity and modernist reformers
  • The Islamic Revival: Islamism and the Islamic state
  • Islamic feminism and liberal Islam
  • Salafism and jihadism in a global age
  • Islam in Europe: Religious identity, Islamic activism and the representation of Islam

Assessment Proportions

  • Coursework: 40%
  • Exam: 60%

PPR.252: Buddhism and Modernity in Asian Societies

  • Terms Taught: Michaelmas Term only.
  • US Credits: 4 semester credits
  • ECTS Credits: 8 ECTS
  • Pre-requisites: At least one entry-level course in religion.

Course Description

This module aims to provide students with a solid knowledge base and understanding of a range of important issues, key concepts, contemporary debates, and approaches in regard to Buddhism and modernity in Asian societies.  Students will develop their understanding of different historical, social, political, and economic factors that have impacted on the development of Buddhism in Asia. We will study the intersection between secular power and religious authority and develop an analytical and interpretive framework within which to situate relevant issues of Buddhism and modernity in Asian societies

Educational Aims

On successful completion of this module students will be able to.:

  • Make informed judgements and present their own views on key concepts and important issues that have impacted on Buddhism in the past and present of select countries in Southeast Asia and in the Far East.
  • Articulate orally and describe critically the modern transformations taking place in regard to Buddhism in Asia by engaging with concepts of modernity, authority, gender, development, and power.
  • Demonstrate an awareness of the problem of imposing Western categories onto the study of Buddhism and Buddhists in non-Western contexts.
  • Demonstrate a solid foundation and understanding of issues regarding Buddhism and modernity in Asian societies.
  • Demonstrate an ability to think through rellevant religious issues in their respective historical and socio-cultural contexts.

Outline Syllabus

Topics studied will typically include:

  • Modernity in the Asian Context                                                              
  • Kingship as Modernising Force
  • The Rise of New Buddhism                       
  • Political Monks and Fundamentalism
  • Buddhist Nuns Buddhist Laywomen
  • Socially-engaged Buddhism
  • Buddhism and Development
  • Buddhist Communities and Disaster Relief                                                          
  • Japanese Shinto-Buddhist Amalgamation  
  • Chinese Buddhism and Global Outreach
  • New Buddhist Movements in Asia

Assessment Proportions

  • Coursework: 40%
  • Exam: 60%

PPR.253: Hinduism in the Modern World

  • Terms Taught: Michaelmas Terms only.
  • US Credits: 4 semester credits
  • ECTS Credits: 8 ECTS
  • Pre-requisites: At least one entry-level course in religion.

Course Description

This course surveys and critically examines the main themes, key concepts, debates and approaches to the study of Hinduism. It pays particular attention to Hinduism in the modern world and Hinduism's relationship with other religions of South Asia during and since the 19th century. In this course, students will develop an analytical and interpretative framework within which to situate competing Hindu traditions in a historical context. Lectures will include topics such as: religious pluralism, the limitations of the term 'Hinduism', the impact of colonialism on Indian religious traditions, gender, the caste system, yoga, and the relationship between Hinduism and politics.

Educational Aims

On successful completion of this module students will be able to:

  • Demonstrate a systematic understanding and critical awareness of issues and debates relating to the study of HInduism
  • Critically analyse developments in Hinduism in relation to changing social and cultural contexts;
  • Apply various theoretical frameworks and critical tools in order to understand, explain and analyse developments in the field

Outline Syllabus

Topics studied will typically include:

  • Pluralism and Indian Religious Traditions
  • Hindu Responses to Modernity and Colonialism
  • Caste and Religion in South Asia
  • Gandhi and the Politics of Tradition
  • Politics and Religion in Indian Traditions
  • Stridharma: The Dharma of Women
  • Female Goddesses, Gurus and Renouncers
  • Religion and Environmental Issues in South Asia
  • Yoga: Ancient and Modern
  • Hindu Ethics in a Post-modern World

Assessment Proportions

  • Coursework: 40%
  • Exam: 60%

PPR.254: Religion in Society: Theories and Methods

  • Terms Taught: Lent / Summer Terms only.
  • US Credits: 4 semester credits
  • ECTS Credits: 8 ECTS
  • Pre-requisites: At least one entry-level course in religion.

Course Description

This module stands as an introduction to theories and methods used by social scientists  to study religion in modern society. The focus is on empirical studies of religiosity, especially in Britain.  

Educational Aims

The module aims to :

  • Survey and critically examine the theoretical frameworks, methods and approaches used to study religion sociologically
  • Engage students with contrasting empirical studies of religion, focussing particularly on religion in modern Britain
  •  Enable students to develop their own sociologically informed questions about religion that can serve as a basis for further enquiry
  • Encourage students to consider the value of conducting their own field research if they choose a dissertation module (using the subject specific skills gained in the module)  

Outline Syllabus

Topics to be studied will typically include:

  • Studying religion in society
  •  Defining and measuring religiosity
  • Understanding religions and their participants
  • Classical foundations: Marx, Weber and Durkheim
  • Contemporary debates
  •  Religious socialisation
  • Teenage religion
  • Religiosity in modernity

Assessment Proportions

  • Exam: 60%
  • Coursework: 40%

PPR.350: Indian Religious and Philosophical Thought

  • Terms Taught: Lent/Summer Terms only.
  • US Credits: 4 semester credits
  • ECTS Credits: 8 ECTS
  • Pre-requisites: You must have undertaken relevant previous studies in Philosophy and/or Religion.

Course Description

This course will introduce major themes and issues in Indian philosophy, focusing on the Hindu and Buddhist philosophical traditions. Beginning with philosophical sections in the Upanishads and the dialogues of the Buddha, the course will trace the development of Indian philosophy from the early to the classical periods. We will cover various ethical, metaphysical, and epistemological concepts, such as: order and virtue (dharma), consequential action (karma), ultimate reality (brahman), the nature of the self (atman), the highest good (moksha), and the means for attaining knowledge (pramana). Throughout we will look at the dialogical relationship between the Hindu and Buddhist philosophical traditions, particularly the shared practice of debate.

Educational Aims

This course aims to provide students with:

  • an in-depth engagement with fundamental ideas and sources of religious and philosophical traditions from India. 
  • the opportunity to gain an understanding about the nature of religious and philosophical thought in an Indian context and how religious and philosophical ideas are intertwined with ideas about politics, society, and gender.
  • the opportunity for students to gain a familiarity with the form and articulation of Asian thought, which often is expressed differently from religious and philosophical thought in Western traditions, and to acquire an understanding of the variety of methods used to approach religious and philosophical sources

Outline Syllabus

This course is an in-depth analysis of a selection of fundamental ideas and texts of the religious and philosophical traditions of India. Each week we will be reading from original sources (all available in English translation), as we explore Indian ideas about the cosmos, the self, the divine, the nature of knowledge, ethics, politics, and the good life. In addition to examining key ideas and texts in their original historical and cultural contexts, we will look at how India religious and philosophical thought has changed through time and how fundamantal concepts have been adapted and re-interpreted by religious and philosophical thinkers in the modern period.

Assessment Proportions

  • Coursework: 40%
  • Exam: 60%

PPR.352: New religions and alternative spiritualities

  • Terms Taught: Michaelmas Term only.
  • US Credits: 4 Semester Credits.
  • ECTS Credits: 8 ECTS Credits.
  • Pre-requisites: You must have undertaken relevant previous studies in Religion.

Course Description

Institutionalised religion is in decline, both in Britain and in northern Europe as a whole. But a great deal is happening 'beyond church and chapel'. The course explores what is taking place in this territory. Is Christianity holding its own among those who do not go to church? Or are 'new' experiential and 'gently' institutionalised spiritualities of life a growing force? Special attention is paid to the role played by 'new spiritual outlets', as well as the role played by the better known new religious movements. You will be encouraged to exercise initiative by incorporating case study research in your essay.

Educational Aims

You will be provided with the opportunity to become knowledgeble about new spiritualities of life, organized both as nsos and as nrms, acquiring knowledge from secondary literature, case study research, or both. You will also be provided with the opportunity to learn how to apply theories - drawn from the sociology of religion as well as more general sociocultural theorizing - to explain the development and operation of new spiritualities of life. Most generally, you will have the opportunity to learn to critically reflect on debates concerning how religion/spirituality is faring as we enter the 21 st century.

Assessment Proportions

  • Coursework: 40%
  • Exam: 60%

PPR.354: Reading Buddhism

  • Terms Taught: Michaelmas Term only.
  • US Credits: 4 Semester Credits.
  • ECTS Credits: 8 ECTS Credits.
  • Pre-requisites: You must have undertaken relevant previous studies in Religion.

Course Description

This course examines the Buddhist scriptures in the Theravada and Mahayana traditions and offers an opportunity for you to understand some of the key concepts and ideas by reading select extracts of the Buddhist texts in English from both schools and traditions. It also allows you to understand the changes in doctrinal emphasis as well as variations in interpretation in the historical development of Buddhism. This is a standalone course but is also accessible to those new to the subject.

Educational Aims

The course intends to:

  • enable students to read major source materials from Buddhist traditions both closely and critically, and
  • understand the socio-cultural and historical contexts in which these texts were compiled.
  • develop student capacity to analyse texts and construct argument based on that in-depth knowledge of evidence.
  • develop student understanding in identifying different strands of schools of Buddhism in its historical development, locate the content in which important soteriological concepts have emerged, and appraise some of the important academic debates in relation to the study of Buddhist texts.

Outline Syllabus

The module will introduce major doctrines and ideas in the Buddhist tradition and provide students with relevant information about the development of Buddhist theories and concepts by reading major texts. The following will be examined: Tipitaka, Vinaya, Bodhisattva Path, Madhyamaka, Yogacara, Tathagatagarbha, Buddhsit Tantra, Lotus Sutra, the Pure Land. 

Assessment Proportions

  • Essay(s):40%
  • Exam: 60%

PPR.355: Reading Islam

  • Terms Taught: Lent / Summer Terms only.
  • US Credits: 4 Semester Credits.
  • ECTS Credits: 8 ECTS Credits.
  • Pre-requisites: You must have undertaken relevant previous studies in Religion.

Course Description

This module introduces students to key Islamic texts such as the Qur’an and its interpretation with a focus on gender. The module is divided into two parts: In the first part, women’s role in making, understanding and contesting Islamic traditions will be examined in depth. In the second part, the attention will shift to contemporary women’s movements in the Muslim world and the rise of Muslim/Islamic feminism in response to contemporary challenges to the Islamic tradition. Several themes will be explored in both parts of the course, including the Islamic law of marriage and the concept of male guardianship over women (qiwamah).

Educational Aims

On successful completion of this module students will be able to:

  • Identify a range of modern configurations of Islam in particular countries or regions.
  • Illustrate the socio-political contexts which have contributed to these configurations both historically and in today's world.
  • Appreciate and articulate some of the key debates that have arisen both within and between them.

Outline Syllabus

Religions may take on partly distinctive forms due to the history and traditions of particular regions or modern nation states. Islam is no exception. This course will examine varieties of Islam in a range of modern areas and countries such as Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Britain.

Assessment Proportions

  • Coursework: 40%
  • Exam: 60%

PPR.357: Religion and politics

  • Terms Taught: Michaelmas Term only.
  • US Credits: 4 Semester Credits.
  • ECTS Credits: 8 ECTS Credits.
  • Pre-requisites: You must have undertaken relevant previous studies in Religion and/or Politics.

Course Description

This course focuses on key contexts and developments in the inter-relationship between religion and politics across the world. The major themes will be: the thesis that the influence of religion has declined in the western world, and its applicability to Christianity in the USA; the thesis that there has been a resurgence of religion in politics in the world, and its relevance to the interpretation of politics in selected Islamic states (with special reference to Judaism and the Middle-East); constitutional attempts to negotiate the role of religion in a multi-religious polity, with special reference to Hinduism and Indian secularism; the management of religion and the concept of a state religion, studied through a comparison of the monarchies of the United Kingdom, Thailand and Japan.

Educational Aims

On successful completion of this module students will be able to:

  • Describe and analyse various ways in which religion has been understood in political contexts.
  • Appraise the manner in which general theories about the role of religion in politics have actually engaged with the experience of different traditions and countries.
  • Demonstrate a critical and informed awareness of the global diversity of the interaction between religion and politics.
  • Compare and contrast experiences within that global diversity.
  • Demonstrate some familiarity with the specific recent history of a range of traditions and countries.
  • Use a range of published materials in engaging with the conceptual challenges of cross-cultural study of religion and politics and apply an understanding of religion to the study of politics and vice versa.

Assessment Proportions

  • Coursework: 40%
  • Exam: 60%

PPR.362: Religion and Violence

  • Terms Taught: Michaelmas Term Only.
  • US Credits: 4 Semester Credits.
  • ECTS Credits: 8 ECTS Credits.
  • Pre-requisites: You must have undertaken relevant previous studies in Religion and/or Politics.

Course Description

There are those who claim that religion is little more than a perverse and irrational scar on the modern world, one that invariably causes violence, while others (at times driven by political motivations) claim that religion is ‘good’ and that violence only occurs when ‘religion has been hijacked by other forces’. Others still claim that ‘religious violence’ is a myth constructed for political purposes, and that one should not therefore speak of religion in such terms. To disentangle such claims, this course examines the relationship between religion and violence, asking whether one can draw such associations between the two and whether one can develop any broader theoretical understandings about their relationship that enhances our understanding of religion in the modern world. While examining a variety of theories and perspectives on the topic, including close examination of the arguments outlined above, it continually will refer to empirical data and case studies in which religious movements and religious individuals have been involved in violent activities, as well as examining cases where acts of immense violence (including genocide) have occurred in what appear to be political contexts, but where religious rhetoric may have been used by the perpetrators of violence.

Educational Aims

The aims of the module are: To make students engage with and think about critical issues for the contemporary study of religion and to discuss issues that are at the forefront of policy agendas and contemporary debates about religion in the modern world.

To enable students to discuss various patterns that appear to be manifest when religious movements appear to engage in violent acts, and be able to discuss what apparent motives lie behind such acts.

To provide students with a knowledge of key issues in the study of religion such as apocalypticism, millennialism and charisma, to enable them to consider the extent to which such themes might be considered as specifically ‘religious’ and to what degree they may also be associated with the political world, and be able to formulate their views on the extent to which these themes play a role in the development of violence.

To help students develop deeper understandings of how practices often associated with religion (such as asceticism) and teachings and doctrines, may also play a role in violent events.

To give students the opportuinity to acquire the ability to discuss wider implications of issues at the forefront of public discussions – such as the notion of religious extremism- and think about the degree to which such issues impact on the nature of liberal democracies.

Outline Syllabus

There are those who claim that religion is little more than a perverse and irrational scar on the modern world, one that invariably causes violence, while others (at times driven by political motivations) claim that religion is ‘good’ and that violence only occurs when ‘religion has been hijacked by other forces. Others still claim that ‘religious violence’ is a myth constructed for political purposes, and that one should not therefore speak of religion in such terms. In disentangling such claims, this course examines the relationships between religion and violence, asking whether one can draw such associations between the two and whether one can develop any broader theoretical understandings about their relationship that enhances our understanding of religion in the modern world. It thus challenges students to think through and develop an understanding of these issues. While examining a variety of theories and perspectives on the topic, including close examination of the arguments outlined above, it continually will refer to empirical data and case studies in which religious movements and religious individuals have been involved in violent activities, as well as examining cases where acts of immense violence (including genocide) have occurred in what appear to be political contexts, but where religious rhetoric may have been used by the perpetrators of violence. While it examines events across a broad historical range, it will pay particular attention to a number of modern cases, from new religions with apocalyptic and millennial orientations that have become associated with violent denouements (including the Peoples Temple, Waco and the Aum Affair in Japan) to events such as the 9/11 attacks in the USA. In so doing it will examine the extent to which concepts such as millennialism and critiques of the modern world play a role in fomenting violence, and examine how concepts such as punishment and hostility to materialism are factors in the motives of those who commit such deeds. By examining such cases, a number of additional questions that arise will include the extent to which religious practices such as asceticism and the search for transcendence may facilitate the emergence of philosophies of violence, the degree to which violence is brought about because of external pressures on religious groups, and because of the ways in which they respond to public pressure and failure, and the extent to which religion may play a role in endowing violence with a spiritual aura that enhances the status of those who perpetrate violence. Through such discussions and examinations, the course will seek to encourage students to develop an understanding of the debates over the notion of ‘religious violence’, formulate their own understandings of the validity of the arguments made by those involved in such debates, and develop an awareness of the possible patterns and processes whereby people who articulate sincere religious beliefs may commit acts of terrible violence. In discussing such issues attention will also be paid to the dilemmas that the notion of ’religious violence’ and its concomitants may present to modern liberal democratic societies that are grounded in notions such as the freedom of religion, and it will raise the question (especially through examining examples such as how Japan – a state whose constitution specifically enshrines the notion of freedom of religion and worship and that has grappled with a history of violent religious group) about what the limits of tolerance might be in the context of religion in the modern state. This will also lead to discussions about public issues such as the idea of religion and ‘radicalisation’- an issue currently at the forefront of public agendas in the UK and elsewhere.

Specific topics to be discussed will typically include:

(i) Debates over religion and violence: from Juergensmeyer’s theories of religion as inherently enmeshed in symbolic violence, to the Dawkins/ Harris/Hitchens view that religion is nothing but nasty and violent, to the ‘apologists’ of religion (from Blair to Keith Ward) who say religion is ‘good’ but may be ‘perverted’ and ‘hijacked’ by violence, to those (eg Cavanaugh) who claim that ‘religious violence’ is itself a ‘myth’, to those (eg Reader) who argue that ‘religious violence’ is a viable category of analysis.

(ii) The ‘mark of Cain’ and narratives and images of violence in religious texts and imagery- from Hindu and Buddhist texts to ascetic narratives.

(iii) Zen and the art of violence: case study of a Buddhist tradition and the extent to which views of the body and ascetic practice may contribute to violence.

(iv) Apocalypse Now? The pursuit of the millennium and the immediacy of violence. Case studies, from medieval Europe to Christian Identity, Jonestown, the Order of the Solar Temple and Waco, to Muslim apocalyptic writings and extreme Japanese millennial groups.

(v) concepts of ‘holy war’ and sacred campaigns, from Christian Crusades to the ‘sacred missions’ of modern apocalyptic movements: serving God, purifying the world and killing the ‘unworthy’.

(v) culture, politics, religion and violence in the modern world, from the genocide of Rwanda to Cambodia, to discussions of modern terrorism. To what extent might ‘religion’ affect the ways such events and acts are performed?

(vi) From the Tokyo subway to the Twin Towers: images, symbolism and violence in the modern world, and themes of punishment and the rejection of innocence.

(vii) violence and sacred transformation: sacralising violence, spiritualising the perpetrators, and transforming worldly failure into spiritual success.

(viii) charismatic leaders and the linking of religion and politics under the banner of ‘sacred leadership’: to what degree can charismatic leadership be a factor in the turn to violence?

(ix) actors and agents: why do (some) people appear to be ready to either ‘die for their faith’ or kill for it? Case histories and studies from the modern world, and testimonies of those who have been involved in acts of ‘sacred terror’.

(x) violence, religious freedom and the dilemmas of democracy: the ‘impossibility of religious freedom’ and the extent to which the notion of ‘religious violence’ challenges the stance of liberal democracy. Dilemmas in Japan and their relevance for discussions of ‘radical Islam’ in the UK and beyond. What are the limits of tolerance in the context of ‘radical’ religions? Can ‘religion’ be a truly private affair in the modern (secular) world? To what extent are public policies (eg in the UK) centred on notions of religion and ‘radicalisation’, helpful (or harmful)?

(xi) to what extent can the issues discussed in this course enhance our understandings of religion as a generic branch or form of human endeavour, thought and practice? Can one identify specific patterns and traits within religious groups or individuals that might suggest a potential towards violence and develop predictive theories about violence in religious contexts- and if so, what are the implications of this in relation to public security and political and religious freedom?

Assessment Proportions

Exam: 60%

Coursework: 40%

PPR.363: Media, Religion and Politics

  • Terms Taught: Michaelmas Term only.
  • US Credits: 4 Semester Credits.
  • ECTS Credits: 8 ECTS Credits.
  • Pre-requisites: You must have undertaken relevant previous studies in Religion and/or Politics.

Course Description

At one time, there was considered to be a radical separation between religion and public life. Over the next ten weeks we will examine the cultural, political, religious relationships and intersections between media, religion and politics in national and global contexts. The module focuses on how religious and political authority is communicated, transformed and challenged through differing types of media. This phenomenon raises several key questions:

We will begin by introducing key theoretical perspectives on the media and the public sphere. We will focus on developing a critical understanding of key concepts and themes appropriate to the mediatisation of religion and politics. Using scholarly arguments, the major themes of our unit include: fandom, gender and the Enlightenment’s contested role of religion in the public sphere; parody, fundamentalism and transforming Christian traditions of the apocalypse;  Islam, free speech and devotional prophetic traditions; social media and traditions of Jihad in Daesh (‘Islamic State’); changing media portrayals of politics and religion in Britain; popular films and their significance in transforming Christian Charismatic traditions; Hinduism, authority in worship and God-Posters; and popular religious music and political controversy in Sikh and Islamic traditions.

Educational Aims

There is no religion or politics without mediation. Media and communication issues are central to the operation of religious groups and political parties, to people’s everyday religious and political lives and to the formation and transmission of ideological beliefs and practices. Religion is a key subject for media portrayal, whether in newspapers or magazines, on the web, on TV, film and radio. Political subjects are debated and aired constantly in old and new media. Most major media events relate either to religion/the sacred or to politics. This module aims to provide students with:

  • A knowledge of the variety of ways in which religion, politics and media co-exist and interact, including the  processes of media and mediatisation, the treatment and representation of religion and politics in the media, religious and political broadcasting, religious and political participation and activism online.
  • An introduction to the methods used to analyse political and religious content and discourse in the media.
  • A better understanding of the research process, and will have been introduced to recent research on media, religion and politics.

Outline Syllabus

The module will examine the cultural and political relationships and intersections between media, religion and politics in national and global contexts. Both old and new media will be considered, and consideration will be given to the transformative potential of the latter for participation and activism in religion and politics. The research methods used for analysing media content and discourse will be introduced and applied. Typically, the syllabus will be drawn from the following topics:

1. Religion and Politics: media, mediation and mediatisation

2. Media, Islam, Islamophobia

3. Global religious and political issues through the media

4. Political and religious ritual and media rituals

5. Changing media portrayals of religion in Britain

6. Media analysis (introduction to content, discourse, and visual analyses)

7. Politics, political engagement and the media in Britain

8. Religious and political broadcasting

9. New media and religious and political activism

10.Secularism and atheism in the media.

In addition to the 10 week syllabus a two hour workshop will be held to discuss and prepare for assessment and examination.

Assessment Proportions

  • Essay(s): 40%
  • Exam: 60%

PPR.391a: Religions in the Modern World

  • Terms Taught: Lent/Summer Term Only.
  • US Credits: 4 Semester Credits.
  • ECTS Credits: 8 ECTS Credits.
  • Pre-requisites: You must have undertaken relevant previous studies in Religion.

Course Description

This module is based around weekly seminars, the aim of which is to give students the opportunity to study trends in the manifestation of religion in the modern world, from secularization to fundamentalism and from Christianity and Islam to the New Age and Paganism. Please note that these are meant to be friendly discussion groups, for which students are expected to come prepared and contribute. While the tutor convenes the group and suggests readings, there are no lectures. Each student takes his or her turn to provide a short presentation to the seminar, which then forms the basis for that week’s discussion. Assessment consists of one 5,000-word mini-dissertation on a topic of the student’s choice, in consultation with the tutor.

Educational Aims

By the end of the module, you should be able to: 

  • give a sustained critical discussion of one substantial theme or line of argument that is in part or whole constitutive of the chosen topic
  • use the resources of small study group to develop their own critical thinking 

Assessment Proportions

Dissertation: 100%

PPR.391d: Current issues in Global Christianity

  • Terms Taught: Lent Term only.
  • US Credits: 4 Semester Credits.
  • ECTS Credits: 8 ECTS Credits.
  • Pre-requisites: You must have undertaken relevant previous studies in Religion.

Course Description

This course gives students from varied academic tracks and backgrounds a clear base in the study of contemporary World Christianity. It introduces students to some of the most central themes and issues which arise in the field of World Christianity. Students will learn foundational skills of critical analysis and interpretation which will enable them to reflect on and engage with central concepts and current debates in the study of World Christianity. This module is an independent study module and students are expected to read widely and contribute during the sessions.

Educational Aims

By the end of the module, you should be able to:

  • give a sustained critical discussion of one substantial theme or line of argument that is in part or whole constitutive of the chosen topic
  • use the resources of small study group to develop their own critical thinking 

As secondary outcome, which is not assessed, the participants should be able in part or wholly as a result of this module to make an effective oral presentation to a small group.

Assessment Proportions

  • Dissertation: 100%

R.ST100: Religions of the Modern World

  • Terms Taught: Full Year course.
  • Also Available:
    • Michaelmas Term only.
    • Lent / Summer Terms only.
    • NOTE:  If you are studying with us for a Full Academic Year and you select a course that has full year and part year variants, you will not be allowed to take only part of the course.
  • US Credits:
    • Full Year course - 10 Semester Credits.
    • Michaelmas Term only - 5 Semester Credits.
    • Lent / Summer Terms only - 5 Semester Credits.
  • ECTS Credits:
    • Full Year course - 20 ECTS Credits.
    • Michaelmas Term only - 10 ECTS Credits.
    • Lent / Summer Terms only - 10 ECTS Credits.

Course Description

The world's major religious traditions have, for centuries, provided diverse cultural responses to some of the most fundamental questions arising from our experience of life. These include such questions as 'Who am I?' 'Why am I here?', 'Where am I going?', 'What does it all mean?' These ancient existential questions continue to be of abiding significance in the contemporary world. Thus, it is said that these questions are as old as history, and yet as new as the New Age.

This course will introduce you to four of the world's major religious traditions, looking particularly at the diverse ways in which they answer such questions. It provides an outline of the growth and development of these traditions and their primary characteristics, and subsequently considers some of the various forms they take in the contemporary world.

After a general introduction to the study of religion, the course is divided into five sections. The first four sections reflect on four major religious traditions  Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam. The first two lectures of these sections will set each religion in context and set out the varieties of its beliefs. The third and fourth lectures will explore religious ethics and practice, and examine some of the contemporary issues facing these religions today.

The fifth section, in the summer term, will bring the previous four sections together by providing a cross-cultural and inter-religious examination of some of the key issues for the study of religion in the modern world, such as gender and politics.

Outline Syllabus

This course introduces four of the world's major religious traditions, looking particularly at the diverse ways in which they answer fundamental questions arising from our experience of life. It provides an outline of the development of these traditions and their primary characteristics, and considers the various forms they take in the contemporary world.

The course is divided into five sections. The first four reflect on major religious traditions - Islam, Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism. The fifth section provides a cross-cultural and inter-religious examination of key issues for the study of religion in the modern world, such as politics, gender, modernity and the character of religious life in the twenty-first century.

Assessment Proportions

  • Coursework: 50%
  • Exam: 50%