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 Module Cap None.


  • None


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • To provide students with an awareness of the theory and practice of listening as evidenced in late antique Christian documents and of the importance of the social and cultural contexts which made it possible.
  • To enable students to read and interpret patristic literature from a new angle
  • To provide students with an awareness of the thought-world of late antiquity


  • Late Antiquity was a period in which, for various reasons (eg. widespread illiteracy, classical rhetorical culture, the importance of the sermon) oral communication had a privileged position. When we read patristic texts, however, we tend to treat them as precisely that: texts to be read rather than as words which were originally spoken and intended to be heard. This module aims to redress this by asking how people thought about language (theoretically and theologically); how listening worked (in terms of memory, mental images, imagination); how people spoke in order to be heard (rhetoric and its techniques); above all, what was necessary for people to hear effectively (a community of understanding, which in a Christian context was based on exegesis of Scripture, interpreted in a context of faith, hope and love); how hearing became effective listening, in the sense of remembering what was heard, reflecting upon it, understanding it and above all, acting upon it and allowing it to transform the life and soul of the hearer (where aesthetic, ethical and ascetic factors are of prime importance). The module will therefore be an attempt to enter the mind of the early Christian listener as well as the speaker; to examine how the Christian message was 'heard' in the sense of what resonances it had for the hearer and what effect it had on them. Whilst it is indeed an exercise in historical, cultural, social theological and literacy criticism it will also entail an attempt to understand the rather more elusive, 'tacit' dimension of affectivity and imagination, of participation and response - in other words, of what it is that motivates, inspires and involves a hearer to not only hear but to understand, to take to heart, act upon and be transformed by what they have heard.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • understanding of the social and cultural contexts from which late antique Christian writings derived
  • advanced understanding of the thought-world of late antiquity
  • knowledge of the various ideas about the theory and practice of listening current in the world of late antiquity, from Patristic sources.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • advanced ability in intelligently reading and interpreting Patristic texts (in translation) of late antiquity in the light of their originally oral context
  • the ability to identify and discriminate between the various ideas about theoryand practice of listening current in the world of late antiquity
  • the ability to evaluate the significance of the thought-world of late antiquity on Patristic writings.
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 opening lecture supplies a framework of information and interpretation, providing students with an overview and a point of departure, 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 will enable students to develop subject-specific knowledge and skills, and key skills in the communication of ideas and critical interpretation of sources. This will be facilitated through student presentation and peer-group discussion in relation to selected key texts.
  • The formative essay requires students to explore the subject-specific themes and theories covered by the module. The summative essay is intended to assess both the students' comprehension of theoretical material (outcome 1), and capacity to apply this material to the discussion of texts and arguments. Feedback on essay performance will be delivered via tutorials.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Seminars 10 fortnightly 2 20
Lectures 1 1 1
Tutorials 4 1 4
Preparation and reading 275
Total 300

Summative Assessment

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

Formative Assessment:

One 5000 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