Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2007-2008 (archived)


Department: Theology and Religion


Type Open Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Available in 2007/08


  • Prior study of the New Testament at undergraduate level.


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • to give an advanced-level introduction to the social-scientific interpretation of the NT as a major tool in NT hermeneutics
  • to investigate the main social-scientific models and methods in current use in NT studies
  • to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of social-scientific interpretation by applying it to appropriate NT texts


  • The module will begin with an introduction to the social sciences, including their characteristic concerns and methods and their contribution to the study of human society past and present. Then it will consider the history of social-scientific interpretation of the Bible in the second half of the twentieth century with special attention to the contributions of sociology and social anthropology. Building on these foundations, the module will proceed to an investigation of aspects of early Christian belief and practice which have been the subject of social-scientific interpretation. Indicative topics for investigation include: (i) boundary markers and their role in the definition and preservation of social identity; (ii) authority and the interpretation and regulation of power in social relations; (iii) status and role, including the way these are affected by factors like wealth, age, gender, race and class; (iv) ritual as an aspect of the symbolic construction of meaning through time, especially in relation to moments of crisis or change; (v) texts and other media of communication and their production and social effects; (vi) group functions, including the function of conflict and responses to experiences of cognitive dissonance; and (vii) the symbolic universe and the social construction of reality, including representations of the relation between heaven and earth.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • knowledge of the background and history of the social-scientific interpretation of the NT;
  • knowledge of the main methods and outcomes of the social-scientific interpretation of the NT;
  • understanding of a range of critical issues raised by the texts under analysis.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • the ability to analyse and evaluate critically current social-scientific interpretation of the NT, including its implications for NT theology and ethics;
  • the ability to apply social-scientific interpretation to an aspect of early Christian belief and practice
Key Skills:
  • advanced research skills, including the ability to locate, evaluate, and summarise key sources, both in print and online, and to cite them to a professional standard;
  • advanced communication skills, including the ability to construct a sophisticated argument, supported by the sources, in a clear, concise and convincing manner.

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • The seminars supply a framework of information and interpretation, which gives students an overview of a subject and a point of departure for their work, introducing subject-specific knowledge and demonstrating the use of subject-specific skills.
  • The tutorials give students an opportunity to present plans for their work, and to receive feedback on their formative work, on a one-to-one basis, promoting the development of subject-specific and key skills.
  • The seminars also give students an opportunity to present the results of their work, and, in dialogue with one another and with staff, to evaluate these results, promoting the development of subject-specific and key skills.
  • The essays require students to investigate particular topics, to present the results of their investigations in a clear and concise manner, and to cite their sources fully, accurately, and consistently, assessing subject-specific knowledge, subject-specific skills, and key skills.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Seminars 19 Weekly 1 19
Tutorials 10 5 per term 5 5
Preparation and Reading 276
Total 300

Summative Assessment

Component: Essay Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 5000 words 100%

Formative Assessment:

Formative assessment will take the form of at least one seminar presentation plus one 5,000 word essay.

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University