Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2010-2011 (archived)

Module THEO40730: Religion, Modernity and Identity

Department: Theology and Religion

THEO40730: Religion, Modernity and Identity

Type Open Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Available in 2010/11 Module Cap None


  • None.


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • To introduce students to the most influential and far-ranging social scientific theories which purport to account for cultural and religious change in the late modern period.
  • To explore a series of substantive topics representing the dimensions of modernity which have the most profound implications for religious identity.
  • To engage critically with texts composed by both theorists of religion in modernity, and representatives of religious movements shaped by the modernisation process.


  • This module focuses on the challenges that the processes of modernisation and the modern age bring to bear on issues of religious identity. It is founded on questions raised by classical sociological theorists - Durkhein, Marx and Weber - but traces their influence and continuing relevance in the work of contemporary scholars still grappling with the place of religion in the late (or post-) modern context. Specifically, it explores the ongoing debate about whether modernity functions primarily as a generator of fragmentation and the rise of the individual, or as a seed-bed of restorative community, issuing forth new forms of identity from the ashes of fallen traditions.
  • The turn to subjectivity and individual authority has brought about an abandonment of the church, on the one hand, but also the turn to the self in alternative spiritualities, representing a creative reconfiguration of received traditions. Moreover, this elevation of individual power has raised questions within traditional religious groups about the nature of their identities in a world incredulous to hierarchy. We will explore the contention that late modern times have witnessed a counter reaction to individualisation in the rise of ???neo-tribes??? and new forms of community. The tension between the individual and the collective is explored by addressing the impact of globalisation upon religious identities, the continuing significance of congregational forms of religious involvement, and the way in which the internet represents a shift towards a networked society which introduces new possibilities for religious community online. Seeking to bring the discussion up to the present day, we shall focus on the way in which both globalising forces and moral conflict in the contemporary age serve to usher forth new forms of fundamentalism, based on rigid boundary maintenance, and ???post-modern spiritualities???, characterised by an attempt to seek out spiritual commonalities across denominational and geographical divisions, as a means to unity or source of respite from religious bigotry

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Critically engage with and demonstrate a clear understanding of the main theories of modernity.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Demonstrate an ability to critically interpret scholarly literature concerning the place of religious phenomena in the modern world and build on this engagement in formulating arguments.
Key Skills:
  • Compose critical, scholarly written work on religion, modernity and identity that demonstrates an awareness of current debates and an aptitude for comparison and synthesis of theoretical material.

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

  • The fortnightly seminars will enable students to develop advanced subject-specific knowledge and skills in the communication of ideas and critical interpretation of sources. This will be facilitated through peer-group discussion of selected key texts, moderated by the module leader.
  • The purpose of the formative essay is to encourage students to explore the subject-specific themes and theories covered by the module, and to develop skills in written communication at a post-graduate level (outcome 3). 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 substantive themes (outcomes 2 and 3). Feedback on essay performance will be delivered via tutorials.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Tutorials 4 as required 1 hour 4
Seminars 10 Onece every 2 weeks 2 hours 20
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:

1 x 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