Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2010-2011 (archived)

Module THEO40230: Conceiving Change in Contemporary Catholicism

Department: Theology and Religion

THEO40230: Conceiving Change in Contemporary Catholicism

Type Open Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Available in 2010/11 Module Cap


  • None


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • To impart knowledge of the ways in which the phenomena of change and development are understood and handled in Catholic thought and practice;
  • To lead students to an understanding of the diversity of possible methodological options in ecclesiology and their respective significance;
  • To introduce students to the concept of 'receptive ecumenism' and to promote in them an appreciation for its relevance to contemporary Catholic theology;
  • To promote in students, via a case-study approach, the ability to engage in a critical, constructive and theologically responsible manner with examples of possible future development in Catholic ecclesial thought and practice.


  • This module will take as its starting point the recognition of there being significant areas of sress and strain within contemporary Roman Catholic ecclesiology and practice. Most pertinent from amongst many other possible issues are those relating to the exercise of authority and magisterium, the relationship between Roman primacy and the episcopacy/local churches, the relationship between institutional identity and integrity and the fact of significant internal plurality and cultural and contextual diversity, the relationship between lay and ordained, the question of married priesthood and, likewise, of ordained female ministry. Set in this perspective the integrating concern of the module is to examine, project and test how Catholicism might appropriately negotiate such issues both with reponsible integrity and with receptive, expansive, creative imagination. After an introductory session the module divides into two closely related phases.
  • The first phase of the module ('The Fundamentals') will examine the fundamental conceptual theological issues pertaining to the talk of conceiving and managing change within Catholicism. This will entail an exploration of the diverse ways of conceptualising the development of doctrine in Catholic thought with reference to, amongst others, the writings of Newman, Congar and Rahner. Also significant here will be an examination of the notion of the Catholicity of the Church through attention to the work of M??hler, de Lubac and Kasper and, related to this, the issue of the appropriate character of Catholicity in a global-plural world.
  • Following this and more directly methodological in orientation, critical attention will be given to the diverse approaches that can be taken to the ecclesiological task (from deductive integralism, through conceptual modelling to more practically engaged modles such as Healy's advocacy of a 'practical-prophetic' approach).
  • Complementing this, critical attention will likewise be given to the diverse extant strategies in ecumenical theology culminating in the constructive articulation and critical testing of the original concept of 'receptive ecumenism'. This concept will be used to refer to a strategy characterised by the conviction that contemporary Catholicism both needs to be and can be expensively yet integrally re-envisioned and restructured (in theological terms 'transfigured') through receptive engagement with what can be learned from the understanding and practice of other Christian traditions.
  • All of this will in turn require a critical-constructive exploration of the theory and practice of ecclesial discernment and decision making within Catholicism. Again, other significant doctrinal themes will inevitably require consideration in the course of pursuing each of these explorations, most notably pneumatology, Christology and Trinity.
  • The second phase of the module ('Specific Case-Studies in the Responsible Receptive Conceiving of Possible Change Within Catholicism') will take the form of a series of particular critical-constructive examinations of the possible development of Roman Catholic practice in some specific regard. Thse will be selected on the basis of student interest from topics such as: Papacy and Collegiality - the Relationship Between the Universal Church and the Local Churches; Authority and Accountability - the Service of Communion and the Sense of the Church; Catholicism and Culture - Holding University , Diversity and Particularly in Communion; Ministerial Priesthood and the Priesthood of the Faithful - Beyond Competitive Binary Oppositions in the Theology of Ministry; Priesthood, Celibacy and Marriage - a Potentially Happy Threesome? and women Priests and Catholicism - Non Sequitur?
  • Taken together the two phases of the module will introduce, exemplify and test a particular way of doing ecumenical theology within contemporary Catholic theology. With this, whilst being first and foremost a module in systematic theoligy, its practical-ecclesial focus will necessitate engagement also with aspects of practical-empirical theology. Likewise, the focus on the developement of doctrine and diachronic integrity will require engagement with aspects of scriptural and historical theology.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • to analyse the way in which the dynamics of doctrinal development are conceptualised and tested in Catholic thought and practice;
  • to discriminate between differing approaches to the talk of ecclesiology and to articulate and justify the rationale for their chosen approach;
  • to assess critically the relevance of the concept of 'receptive ecumenism' to one or more aspect of contemporary Catholic ecclesial practice;
  • to conduct a focussed, critically-constructive and theologically reponsible examination of a chosen area of possible develpment in contemporary Catholic ecclesiology and practice.
Subject-specific Skills:
    Key Skills:

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

      • After an initial session introducing the module, its aims and objectives, key concepts and assessment requirements, all subsquent sessions will be in seminar format. Each session will be driven by the equivalent of two chapter/essay length published pieces which the students will be required to have read in advance and to take turns in presenting a formal response. These seminar discussions will be the primary means of exemplifying and promoting student competence in both the conceptual understanding stated earlier as fundamental to the module and in the application of such understanding to particular aspects of contemporary Catholic thought and practice.
      • The formative assessment assignment will be focussed upon promoting and assessing students' knowledge, understanding and critical-constructive competencies in relation to the fundamental concepts that are an issue in the module (e.g. development, Catholicity, ecclesiology, ecumenical theology) by requiring first-hand analysis of relevant primary sources.
      • The summative assessment assignment will be focussed upon promoting and assessing the ability of students to apply, test and refine their preferred understanding of such concepts as are mentioned above in the context of one specific area of possible development in contemporary Catholic ecclesiology and practice.

      Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

      Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
      Tutorials 3 1 in term 1; 2 in term 2 0.5 1.5
      Seminars 19 1 per week 1.5 28.5
      Preparation and Reading 270
      Total 300

      Summative Assessment

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

      Formative Assessment:

      one 5000 word esay

      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